“The whole recycling effort has turned into a colossal waste of resources (energy and manpower). Instead of ONE garbage collection truck coming by, we now have FOUR (occasionally even five). .”
– Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser
According to recent reports, “Ottawa, the center of political power in Canada, is going to “trash single use plastic bags “by 2021 or so.
The article on CBC News further states “A full list of banned items isn’t set in stone, but a government source told CBC News that the list also could include items like cotton swabs, drink stirrers, plates and balloon sticks. Fast-food containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene, which is similar to white Styrofoam, will also be banned.”
Does that mean, the garbage collection truck will then, after collecting the contents, return my empty plastic trash bag? Will that get rid of or prevent the annual winter-period accumulation of (mostly) plastic debris on our local highway median?
I doubt it!
Re-use has been in Vogue
In fact, re-use of many plastic items (particularly bags) has been in vogue for a long time already. It does not need any new government decree, or misguided law.
The debris in the highway median is from lost items (including plastic bags), that were “re-used” for other purposes. That litter is definitely a disgrace and a burden on the environment. However, I’ve yet to see anyone willfully throwing out their just acquired super-market-purchase, bag and contents. Actually, I’ve yet to see anyone disposing of trash that way.
However, as is so common, so-called “progressive” minds are mostly concerned with solving the effect rather than the true cause of pollution.
The true Cause of Pollution
The true cause of pollution is not that people find a particular item no longer useful. Buying a new couch or fridge is easy. Both come (probably) with “free delivery” but disposal of the older ones can be costly and difficult.
It’s similar with many plastic items. The problem with such is not that people just throw them out anywhere, but that they cannot be re-used and (now) must be “recycled.” It sounds like a laudable idea but, essentially, is not possible. As Canada has recently learned, the stuff sent to the Philippines several years ago for “recycling” is on its way back. The old thinking “out of sight — out of mind” no longer does the trick, and rightly so!
Recycling is mostly wishful Thinking
Between the energy and manpower costs to collect, store, clean, separate, store again, and to send the post-consumer plastics waste overseas for “recycling,” the whole process is nothing but a fantastic waste of resources. Industry and media often claim great strides ahead in doing more recycling but much of that is achieved at the source of the materials, i.e. not post-consumer. At a factory making plastic devices, clean and uncontaminated materials are available in predictable quantities at low cost. If technically feasible, recycling such into the production system makes perfect sense. In addition, some waste products can be used to manufacture other products.
The hard Way to recycle
However, even when clean and free from other stuff, not all polymers (a chemical term for certain plastics) can be recycled, many not at all. I found this out “the hard way,” a few years ago. When I took some older single component plastic patio chairs to this city’s “Transfer Station.” Much to my surprise (and consternation), they wouldn’t accept them for any of their multiple waste and recycling streams – unless I paid disposal costs for “hazardous waste” or so.
In contrast, when accompanied with all kinds of other stuff, from food residues to other components in the many “composite materials” that are in use, recycling is even less possible. For example, wood (real or particle board variety) with a synthetic polymer content or coating cannot be separated into clean components, even with modern technology and much energy. Self-adhesive labels (e.g. address labels or modern postage stamps) on paper envelopes and cardboard are similarly bonded onto the paper. Any recycling of such paper or cardboard would require a 100% removal of the adhesives as they would otherwise “gum up” the recycling process.
The recycling Idea itself “got polluted”
Initially, the recycling effort, when it was limited to clean items (such as office paper) that actually could be recycled, was a worthwhile effort. However it didn’t stay that way for long.
The recycling idea itself got polluted by the (false) assumption that everything can and, therefore, must be recycled. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, by now, the whole recycling effort has turned into a colossal waste of resources (energy and manpower). Instead of ONE garbage collection truck coming by, we now have FOUR (occasionally even five) different trucks to collect whatever. As the rules keep changing about what item goes into which bin, (as my Dearest calls it), some of our neighbors regularly “fail garbage.”
However, there is a truly preposterous pollution problem in the world, namely the gyres of floating plastic litter and pollution in the oceans.
That is truly an environmental disaster in the making – though entirely avoidable. And the whole “recycling idea” is a large part of it. The world does not need to recycle plastic straws, bags, Styrofoam cups and other garbage. Instead of “recycling”, or their “disposal” via landfills, or simply “over board,” it should be incinerated with clean-burning technology.
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K. and the European Union signed on to the Ocean Plastics charter at the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que., last June, agreeing to find ways to deal with marine plastics litter. That’s just fine but neither banning plastic nor having a law that forbids “single use” plastic bags will solve that problem. So, what’s the solution?
Just like we have catalytic converters on every gasoline-powered car, already for decades, garbage can be incinerated with modern catalytic flue gas purification to produce nothing but innocuous gas emissions. All that can be done at much less cost by recycling the energy contained in these items that cannot be re-used, recycled, or re-manufactured. The best better solution to the disposal problem from occurring in the first place is to destroy the garbage for good, through incineration.
The City of Hamilton (Ontario) used to have a well-functioning waste incineration plant. It reduced the city’s entire household waste to a few blocks of solid “rock,” every day. On demand by local politicos, it got replaced with “recycling” (Philippines’ variety), a large “composting facility” that cannot handle grass clippings and tree leaves, and more landfill for trash disposal than before.
Waste incineration plants are found in many countries around the world. For example, Germany alone has 22 such plants in operation and even used to (perhaps still does) destroy hazardous waste shipped from Australia.
It’s time to give incineration technology another try here and elsewhere, together with up-to-date catalytic converter systems. Improved ground- and surface-water quality and (eventually) a litter-free environment will thank you for it!
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is a professional scientist with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Technical University, Munich, Germany. He has worked as a research scientist and project chief at Environment Canada‘s Canada Centre for Inland Waters for over 30 years and is currently Director of Research at TerraBase Inc. He is author of nearly 300 publications in scientific journals, government and agency reports, books, computer programs, trade magazines, and newspaper articles.
Dr. Kaiser has been president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research, a peer reviewer of numerous scientific papers for several journals, Editor-in-Chief of the Water Quality Research Journal of Canada for nearly a decade, and an adjunct professor. He has contributed to a variety of scientific projects and reports and has made many presentations at national and international conferences.
Dr. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
Dr. Kaiser can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org