Tag Archives: recycling

Fatalism about Plastics: Intractable Plastics Pollution

The annual inflow of plastic could nearly triple from 2016 to 2040, the study found, and even if companies and governments meet all their commitments to tackle plastic waste, it would reduce the projection for 2040 by only 7%, still a more-than twofold increase in volume.  The study’s authors, the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trust and sustainability consulting firm Systemiq Ltd., set out a range of measures to stem the flow and called on businesses and governments to do more to reduce the use of plastic. 

The study attributes the surge to a growing global population using more plastic per person. Other factors include greater use of nonrecyclable plastics and an increasing share of consumption occurring in countries with poor waste management. China and Indonesia are likely the top sources of plastic reaching the oceans, accounting for more than a third of the plastic bottles, bags and other detritus washed out to sea, according to a study published in 2015 by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia.

Over the past two years China has been making strides to improve waste management, including banning the import of plastic and other waste from developed countries like the U.S., which for decades have shipped much of their trash overseas. Indonesia has implemented its own restrictions on trash coming in from overseas, while lawmakers in the U.S. are increasingly trying to find ways to improve the country’s domestic recycling rates as export markets vanish.

They found that flexible plastic packaging—particularly items like potato-chip bags and food pouches, which are made of several materials and typically aren’t recycled—accounts for a disproportionate amount of ocean plastic. The As You Sow report said companies should stop selling products in flexible plastic until it is recycled or composted in significant amounts. Companies, in response, have been redesigning flexible packaging to promote recycling. For example, Nestle recently began selling a line of Gerber baby-food pouches made from a single material. But hurdles remain, particularly around collection and sorting of the packaging…

The amount of plastic flowing into the oceans could be reduced by as much as 80% over the next 20 years through a combination of reduced plastic use, increased recycling, alternatives to problematic packaging like plastic pouches and better waste management, the Pew-Systemiq study said…

Excerpts from Saabira Chaudhuri, Ocean Plastic Is Getting Worse and Efforts to Stem the Tide Fall Short, Study Finds, WSJ, July 23, 2020

Electronic Waste: The Death of Your Phone and the Duty to Resuscitate It

E-waste is the fastest-growing element of the world’s domestic waste stream, according to a 2017 report by the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor. Some 50m metric tonnes will be produced annually in 2020 — about 7kg for every person in the world. Just 20 per cent will be collected and recycled.  The rest is undocumented, meaning it likely ends up in landfill, incinerated, traded illegally or processed in a substandard way. That means hazardous substances spilling into the environment, poisoning the ground and people living nearby.

Heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium — commonly found in LCD screens,  refrigerators and air-conditioning units — as well as chemicals such as CFCs and flame retardants  found in plastics can contaminate soil, pollute water and enter the food chain.  Research last year by Basel Action Network, an NGO, linked toxic e-waste shipped from Europe to  contaminated chicken eggs in Agbogbloshie — a Ghanaian scrapyard where 80,000 residents subsist by retrieving metals from electrical waste. Eating just one egg from a hen foraging in the scrapyard would exceed the European Food Safety Authority’s tolerable daily intake for chlorinated dioxins 220-fold.

Some appliances are more likely to be recycled than others. The recycling rate for big appliances, such as fridges and cookers, is about 80 per cent. That is because they are harder to dispose of and eventually get picked up, even when they are dumped by the kerb. Of small appliances, however,  barely one in five makes it to the recycling centre.  Across the world, governments are trying different ways to reduce e-waste and limit the amount that ends up in landfill.

For some time, EU countries have operated a one-for-one take-back system — which means that distributors need to take back, for free, an older version of any equipment they sell you. But since the rapid rise of online retailers, this has been harder to implement

In the end, all e-waste needs to be reduced to core metals. “It’s a bit like a mining activity.” In certain recycling  plants robots have been programmed to dismantle flatscreen TVs, extracting  precious metals such as cobalt or lithium, whose deposits are limited and increasingly valuable.  “One of the hardest things about recycling is that you are not sure how [the manufacturers] made  it.”   Companies are encouraged  to include this information on their devices. It could be a  file with instructions readable by robots that could then proceed with the dismantling, making the process “easier, cheaper and more circular”. However, manufacturers have so far kept a close guard on the design of their products.

Many pressure groups and lawmakers have concluded that improving recycling rates will not be  sufficient to tackle the global e-waste problem. Increasingly, they are advocating for the right to repair. In October 2019, the EU adopted a package of design measures to make household appliances more repairable.  Starting from March 2021, manufacturers selling certain household appliances will have to ensure  that spare parts are available for a number of years after their product has launched; that their  items can be easily disassembled (and so use screws not glue); and that they provide access to  technical information to repair professionals.

The rules cover appliances including refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and televisions.  But they do not extend to IT equipment such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones.  “The road to a new product is very easy, and the road to a successful repair very difficult,” says  Martine Postma, founder and director of Repair Café International Foundation, which celebrated  its 10th anniversary last year. Since its first repair event in Amsterdam in 2009, the organisation  has grown to nearly 2,000 repair groups in 35 countries around the world.  Now, it wants to collect more data about electronic gadgets, to see if it can plot “weak points” in  design that could help manufacturers make them more repairable.

Excerpts from Aleksandra Wisniewska, What happens to your old laptop? The growing problem of e-waste, http://wiki.ban.org, Jan. 10, 2020

A Dirty Business: Recycling Other People’s Waste

Across India, from poor villages to expensive residential areas of cities, millions of trash pickers are at work to collect what other people dispose. They are called raddiwalas, ragpickers, scavengers and waste managers. Some go door-to-door, others gather iron rebar and used bricks on construction sites, still others clean parks and city streets. There are even specialists who gather hair, which is exported in bulk for wigs.  They’re the starting point of a multilayered, $25 billion industry in India that advances through increasingly specialized middlemen and industrialists to eventually turn garbage into new objects. The work is a moneymaker for conglomerates as well as a route out of poverty for some of India’s poorest people.

All of that has been upended by a crash in a global garbage market dominated by two players: China, which buys most of the world’s garbage, and the U.S., which sells the most. Last year, China dramatically cut the amount of garbage it buys. The reduced demand from China and continued supply from the U.S. flooded the world trash market and drove down the price of garbage everywhere….Indian recycling companies took advantage of the deep discounts and started importing more trash from the U.S. and elsewhere. In 2018, the imports of mixed scrap plastic to India rose 33%.  The jump in supply pushed prices down for the low-end Indian workers who pick through mountains of locally produced trash for raw materials to sell.

That’s impacting an Indian trash economy powerful enough to have prompted its own migration pattern: thousands of families left their rural villages to collect garbage in cities. Now, with their garbage hauls worth less, many are returning home.  For the pickers, the going price for a kilo, or 2.2 pounds, of plastic water bottles, which used to bring around 45 rupees—roughly 65 cents—is now worth only about 25 rupees—or 36 cents.The trash glut also lowered profits for industrial recycling companies who turn the trash into usable materials. Plastic pellets, the end-product after processing some plastic scrap, went from 80 rupees to 45 rupees a kilo.

China  ratcheted up restrictions on imports of recyclable materials to force its recycling industry to absorb more of the waste generated within the country. China also is nudging the country away from the role of accepting others’ garbage, which is viewed as a dirty industryThe global trash glut means India’s own trash is worth less to its domestic recyclers.

Excerpts from By Eric Bellman and  Vibhuti Agarwal, ‘We Are Swamped’: How a Global Trash Glut Hurt a $25 Billion Industry, July 28, 2019

The Future of Recycling

About 90 percent of the 8 billion soda cans sold in California every year get turned in for recycling and a 5¢ refund. But cheaper commodity prices, plus lower Chinese demand for America’s used bottles and cans, have upended the economics of the state’s recycling industry. Over the past two years, California’s recycling rate has fallen enough to relegate more than 2 billion containers a year to landfills.  About 700 of the 2,400 redemption centers California had in 2011 have closed, according to CalRecycle, the state’s recycling agency, the majority in the past year. The mostly small companies that run the shedlike centers in parking lots outside grocery stores are being squeezed by a commodity bust that’s lowered the price they receive for recycled glass, plastic, and aluminum. The price they have to pay consumers for this detritus has stayed fairly high. A state subsidy program that was supposed to help make up the difference hasn’t kept up.,,

The decline in the value of scrap is draining California’s Beverage Container Recycling Fund, which relies on the proceeds from bottle deposits consumers pay upfront to reimburse redemption centers. As of June 30, it had $195 million, down from $246 million a year earlier. At this rate, it’s expected to run out of money in the first half of 2018.

“There’s been a massive crisis and a massive failure to respond to that crisis,” says Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, an advocacy group in Southern California. Collins says the state needs to boost its “outdated” payment formula by as much as $1 million a month or follow other states, where bottling companies pay recycling centers a fixed amount per container. A spokesman for CalRecycle says the state is looking at all options.

China is the largest destination for U.S. scrap exports, taking about 11 percent by volume in 2015. Since 2013, under a government program called Operation Green Fence, China has been aggressively inspecting and in some cases turning away bottles and cans that are mixed in with food waste or other nonrecyclable scrap. The policy has forced waste processors in the U.S. to screen discarded containers more carefully, driving up costs and diminishing the value of some waste.

Excerpts from California’s Recycling Industry is in the Dumps, Bloomberg Business Week, Oct. 6, 2016

Electronic Waste: reincarnation

In the electronics recycling business, the benchmark is to try to collect and recycle 70 percent, by weight, of the devices produced seven years earlier…. Apple exceeds that, typically reaching 85 percent, including recycling some non-Apple products that customers bring in.

That means Apple will have to get hold of and destroy the equivalent of more than 9 million of 2009’s iPhone 3GS models this year around the world. With iPhone sales climbing to 155 million units in 2015, grinding up Apple products is a growth business.  Apple said it collected more than 40,000 tons of e-waste in 2014 from recycled devices, including enough steel to build 100 miles of railway track.

Brightstar Corp., based in Miami, Florida, TES-AMM in Singapore, Hong-Kong’s Li Tong and Foxconn Technology Group, the most famous manufacturer of iPhones, are part of a global network of recyclers that agreed to more than 50 rules, ranging from security, to insurance, to auditing, in the destruction of the phones.

The process starts at hundreds of Apple stores globally, or online, where the company offers gift certificates to lure iPhone owners to sell back their devices….Once Apple’s partners decide a phone must be scrapped, a deconstruction process begins that is remarkably similar to Apple’s production model, only in reverse.
Apple pays for the service and owns every gram, from the used phone at the start to the pile of dust at the end, said Linda Li, chief strategy officer for Li Tong. The journey, consisting of about 10 steps, is controlled, measured and scripted through vacuum-sealed rooms that are designed to capture 100 percent of the chemicals and gasses released during the process, she said…

While some brands salvage components such as chips that can be used to repair faulty phones, Apple has a full-destruction policy.“Shredding components takes more energy than repurposing,” Li said. Li Tong works with other customers to advise on how to design products that are easier to deconstruct, taking cameras from smartphones for reuse in toy drones, and adapting screens from Microsoft Surface tablets to use in New York taxis, she said.  Apple shreds its devices to avoid having fake Apple products appearing on the secondary market.
And once it’s ground into shreds, what becomes of your old iPhone? Hazardous waste is stored at a licensed facility and the recycling partners can take a commission on other extracted materials such as gold and copper. The rest is reincarnated as aluminum window frames and furniture, or glass tiles.

Where iPhones Go To Die ( and Be Reborn), Bloomberg,  Mar. 13, 2016

3000 Trash Banks: Indonesia

Customers, in a poor corner of eastern Indonesia, borrow cash — and pay back trash.
“The program originated from the people, it is managed by the people, and the rewards are for the people,” said bank manager Suryana, who wears a black jilbab headscarf and lives with her family above the Mutiara Trash Bank in the fast-growing city of Makassar on the island of Sulawesi. “From an economic point of view, this gets results.”… Not just neighborhoods in Indonesia, but elsewhere across emerging Asia and Africa, locales are embracing “trash banking” as a way of reducing pressure on ever-growing landfill sites and allowing some of their poorest citizens access to savings and credit.
The scale of the problem facing Makassar and other Asian cities is clear from a trip to the landfill on the edge of town. Each day the city of 2.5 million people produces 800 tons of rubbish, most of which ends up at the five-story high tip, which sprawls over the area the size of two soccer pitches. Scavengers, many of them children, work alongside cows foraging for food.

Against this backdrop, trash banking is taking off. Residents bring recyclable trash such as plastic bottles, paper and packaging to the collection points, known as banks, where the rubbish is weighed and given a monetary value. Like a regular bank, customers are able to open accounts, make deposits — of trash, converted to its rupiah value — and periodically withdraw funds.

The city government commits to purchasing the rubbish at set prices displayed at the bank, ensuring price stability for those bringing trash in. It then sells it on to waste merchants who ship it to plastic and paper mills on the main island of Java….The city administration sends trucks to collect the waste from the Mutiara Trash Bank several times a week and brings it to a Central Trash Bank, where it is sorted for sale…

Indonesia produces 64 million tons of trash a year, of which 70 percent is dumped in open …Indonesia as a whole last year had 2,800 trash banks operating in 129 cities, with 175,000 account holders, according to the environment ministry….[IO]ther similar practices are carried out in African countries including Ghana and South Africa, in India’s cities of Pune and Bengaluru, and in Manila, Bogota and Brazil.

Excerpts from This Asian Bank Lets You Borrow Cash and Pay in Trash, Bloomberg News
May 15, 2016