Saturday, March 3, 2012

Recycling Efficiency

by Richard Crews
There are three general principles to consider in attaining recycling efficiency.

The first is that recycling expenses should be built into every original product. This should be part of the engineering design, and factored into the cost to the consumer. The human race has long practiced a "rape and run" approach to utilizing the environment from cutting down trees to savaging landscape and extinguishing endangered species. It has been our common practice to use, even to use up, anything nature puts at hand with the confident assumption that somehow more will be provided.

We can no longer live that way. We are fast approaching the point where the garage is full of discarded gadgets and the yard is full of garbage. Recycling materials and components must become part of the engineering design process, and the expense for recycling must become part of the purchase price.

Second, the enthusiastic proliferation of exotic materials has to be limited. For several decades the wonders of materials science have provided exciting variations in color, texture, durability, heat characteristics, etc. in the toys and tools we gather around us. The heyday of a new plastic for every occasion has to come to an end. Almost all packaging, for example, can be done with polyehtyleneterepthalate (PET) which can be readily recycled into polyester fibers. PET is already the most abundantly used packaging plastic. It can be made thick or thin, rigid or flexible. There is little need for the other polyethylenes, polypropylenes, etc. that now accumulate in landfills by the millions of tons every year.

Third, the process of "re-manufacturing" has to become part of our everyday culture. Everything from vehicles and appliances to tools and toys (including electronics) should be carefully deconstructed and repaired as much as possible.

We can no longer live on the Earth as if it were infinite and inexhaustible, and as if everything upon it is simply ours for the taking as we choose. We need to learn to live in such a way that our children and grand children will have a place to live as well.