The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists Forum

Author Topic: Recycling, is it worth it?  (Read 11519 times)

paul.fr

  • Guest
Recycling, is it worth it?
« on: 24/05/2007 09:58:38 »
No, I'm not changing my opinion. That being, recycling is good for the environment and the social good. However, i have heard a good argument against recycling. And it goes a little something like this.

The only items worth recycling are aluminium cans, the energy costs in recycling far outweigh the costs for fresh production. Also, the only items "street people" (plus schools, Joe public, etc) collect to exchange for money are aluminium cans. If there was money to be made in any other form of recycling big business would be in control and "we" would be exchanging our rubbish for their money.

The cost for collecting household recycling material, bottles and cardboard is not cheap. It only appears cheap because of subsidies. Once the cost of collection from the home, transport to some central facility, sorting, transporting from the central facility to the recycling facility are taken into account the carbon used outweighs the carbon gained.

I still believe in recycling, but this is a compelling argument. What do you think?


 

Offline that mad man

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 724
    • View Profile
    • My music
Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #1 on: 24/05/2007 16:14:27 »
I agree with you about recycling some materials if it makes sense but like you question the economics of it all.

Where I live we have a combined heat and power incinerator that incinerates (after sorting) the waste rubbish collected to create hot water. Its a strange situation as the incinerator is owned by the local council but the heat that generates hot water that gets sold on to consumers is only jointly owned by the council. The incinerator generates a vast profit for its owners, the heat is not cheap and it is in a sense a monopoly.

The recycling policy in my area is poor despite many attempts to get recycling bins, which is no surprise as having a good recycling policy would mean less to burn and less profit!

If done properly there would be little to incinerate but as you have pointed out there are also the hidden costs:
The cost of the transport and maintenance, fuel, manpower and storage then the cost of the recycling bins so its not a cheap affair unless subsidised. To be cost effective everything needs to be done on a local level with the least amount of manpower and transport involved.

I'm not sure but is it cheaper power wise, to make a plastic or glass bottle?

Bee



 

another_someone

  • Guest
Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #2 on: 24/05/2007 16:17:27 »
Substantially, I would agree with the argument.

It is simplistic in a number of ways, but it does highlight the issue that recycling has to be justified on a case by case basis, and you cannot simply say that all recycling is good.

With regard to paper and card - I do think domestic recycling is not at all environmentally efficient; but commercial recycling (e.g. recycling of paper from companies that use a lot of it, and so have large amounts of waste from relatively few locations, so reducing transport costs) is a very different matter.  If one is interested in recycling paper, then it would at least make more sense, rather than collecting from the front door, to collect from central locations (e.g. collection points placed half a mile apart), and to only collect once every two months (so the collection points must have a high capacity, but it will reduce transport costs).  I also do not believe that paper is best used to be recycled for for paper (recycled paper is always of inferior quality, and as has been mentioned, needs careful sorting).  To me, it makes much more sense simply to burn waste paper for fuel, and grow more trees to use to making fresh paper.

Ironically, glass recycling is nothing new - we used to do it when the milkman collected the old milk bottles - except that milk no longer comes in glass bottles.  Then again, we would get money back on the empties - so highlighting that where there is genuine environmental efficiency involved, then there is actually money to be made out of it, and the process does not need subsidy or coercion.  The problem with glass is that it is a very heavy material, and this makes it expensive to use both as a packaging material (it makes the final product heavier to transport, and hence cost more fuel), and it makes it expensive to transport for recycling.  From other perspectives, the inertness of glass makes it a very good packaging material for food (whenever food is wrapped in plastic, or plastic coated paper, there will always be some slight contamination of the food).
 

Offline rosy

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 1018
  • Chemistry
    • View Profile
Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #3 on: 24/05/2007 16:47:00 »
Quote
Ironically, glass recycling is nothing new - we used to do it when the milkman collected the old milk bottles - except that milk no longer comes in glass bottles.
It does if you get it from the milkman...
 

Offline Karen W.

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • Posts: 31653
  • Thanked: 5 times
  • "come fly with me"
    • View Profile
Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #4 on: 24/05/2007 18:37:55 »
LOL Rosey You make me smile.. LOL I so Remember deliveries on the front porch between 4:00 AM and 5:00 AM. every morning..LOL 4 large bottles of milk in nice glass jars with an old metal rack to hold the jars..LOL It was a great way to recycle the glass.. These days The gas alone for daily trips would be terrible... There was A time me mom just purchased our milk from a neighbor..LOL My brother would go get the milk on his bike..LOL He had to milk the cow..LOL for the milk.. But that was cream and all but we used the same container every time.. so there are still ways to recycle economically also. Thanks for the memory"
Foil balls were fun, but then again there are the economics to it also.
 

Offline Bored chemist

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 8670
  • Thanked: 42 times
    • View Profile
Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #5 on: 24/05/2007 19:36:54 »
Whether or not recyling costs money or saves money depends on what you would do with the stuff instead. If you have run out of space for landfill and your people will not support incineration because of (not absolutely scientific) fears about polution, then you have to recycle.
How much is the landfill tax? That can be the single biggest factor in the economics of recyling.
BTW, while it is true to say "(whenever food is wrapped in plastic, or plastic coated paper, there will always be some slight contamination of the food)." it is also true that when food is eaten in ordinary air it will be contaminated by the polutants there. Who cares? Eating food grade plastic isn't a big problem; it's extra roughage.
 

paul.fr

  • Guest
Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #6 on: 24/05/2007 21:50:29 »
Substantially, I would agree with the argument.

It is simplistic in a number of ways, but it does highlight the issue that recycling has to be justified on a case by case basis, and you cannot simply say that all recycling is good.


It has to be simplistic, there is no point having it too complicated. People will lose interest and simply switch off, any decent proposal has to be short and simplistic for a majority audience.

With regard to paper and card - I do think domestic recycling is not at all environmentally efficient; but commercial recycling (e.g. recycling of paper from companies that use a lot of it, and so have large amounts of waste from relatively few locations, so reducing transport costs) is a very different matter.  If one is interested in recycling paper, then it would at least make more sense, rather than collecting from the front door, to collect from central locations (e.g. collection points placed half a mile apart), and to only collect once every two months (so the collection points must have a high capacity, but it will reduce transport costs).  I also do not believe that paper is best used to be recycled for for paper (recycled paper is always of inferior quality, and as has been mentioned, needs careful sorting).  To me, it makes much more sense simply to burn waste paper for fuel, and grow more trees to use to making fresh paper.



There are already forested areas that are only for the production of paper, in the US anyway. Recycled paper does not have to be made in to high quality paper, it could be used for bog standard everyday use, calendars, note pads, toilet rolls.....The possibilities are nedless.

This is one area where the government has to give way to market forces, industry will find a way to make money out of the good will of the populus. We feel good for recycling, it may help with climate change, reduced or zero susidy and market forces controlling the price. The consumer gets money back for recycling, similar to when you used to get 10pence for returning bottles of cola
 

another_someone

  • Guest
Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #7 on: 25/05/2007 00:39:19 »
BTW, while it is true to say "(whenever food is wrapped in plastic, or plastic coated paper, there will always be some slight contamination of the food)." it is also true that when food is eaten in ordinary air it will be contaminated by the polutants there. Who cares? Eating food grade plastic isn't a big problem; it's extra roughage.

I care because in many cases I can taste the difference.

There are also concerns about phthalates - and who knows what other plastics might have a biological effect.
 

another_someone

  • Guest
Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #8 on: 25/05/2007 00:59:00 »
With regard to paper and card - I do think domestic recycling is not at all environmentally efficient; but commercial recycling (e.g. recycling of paper from companies that use a lot of it, and so have large amounts of waste from relatively few locations, so reducing transport costs) is a very different matter.  If one is interested in recycling paper, then it would at least make more sense, rather than collecting from the front door, to collect from central locations (e.g. collection points placed half a mile apart), and to only collect once every two months (so the collection points must have a high capacity, but it will reduce transport costs).  I also do not believe that paper is best used to be recycled for for paper (recycled paper is always of inferior quality, and as has been mentioned, needs careful sorting).  To me, it makes much more sense simply to burn waste paper for fuel, and grow more trees to use to making fresh paper.



There are already forested areas that are only for the production of paper, in the US anyway. Recycled paper does not have to be made in to high quality paper, it could be used for bog standard everyday use, calendars, note pads, toilet rolls.....The possibilities are nedless.

The best quality paper is in any case not made from wood but from rag.

The other thing about recycled paper is that for many purposes one needs to bleach it with chlorine, and that has its own environmental cost.

And, yes, I have noticed that the quality of paper for note pads has deteriorated significantly over the past decade or so.

In most uses, using second rate paper will not necessarily be any better in the long run if it means it deteriorates faster, and people throw more of it away, or people have to use more to achieve the desired effect.  In another context where I have found a similar trade off is with carrier bags, where I find modern carrier bags often to be too flimsy, and while each individual carrier bag might be more environmentally friendly, but given that I can put less into each carrier bag, and greater likelihood of failure of the bag causing it to have to be thrown away, thus it becomes a false saving.


This is one area where the government has to give way to market forces, industry will find a way to make money out of the good will of the populus. We feel good for recycling, it may help with climate change, reduced or zero susidy and market forces controlling the price. The consumer gets money back for recycling, similar to when you used to get 10pence for returning bottles of cola

The problem is that already the paper industry is awash with waste paper submitted for recycling, so they have no need to incentivize people to give them more.  The trouble is that I think paper can only be recycled about 3 times (I may be wrong about the number of times, but I do know there is a limit) before the fibres become too damaged for reuse, so recycled paper has to constantly be mixed with fresh paper to make new paper to keep enough good fibres in the mix.  Ofcourse, this also means the more you recycle paper, the poorer the quality of the waste paper, and so the greater the quantity of fresh fibre that needs to be mixed in.

On the wider issue of CO2 (and there are still questions as to whether this is even an issue - although there may be other reasons for not throwing paper into land fills, such as the generation of methane gas); planting new trees for the paper industry will absorb CO2 from the air (no new paper, then no new trees, then no CO2 absorption); and then burning that paper after use will offset oil usage.  You are essentially creating a biofuel without having to invent a brand new industry, and without having to create a competition between the food industry and the biofuel industry, and you get good quality paper as a zero cost byproduct of creating a biofuel.
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

Recycling, is it worth it?
« Reply #8 on: 25/05/2007 00:59:00 »

 

SMF 2.0.10 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines
SMFAds for Free Forums