Thursday, 2 June 2022

So Many Recycling Things #02


 Some World Recycling Projects

Season 2, more recycling tales

Here's the second video marathon, plastic paving bricks, toxic lake and town, vegan leather, shoes made from plastic bags, recycled polystyrene, using lavender to remediate polluted soils, refrigerator recycling, shampoo bars, tiles made from soot, teddy bears stuffed with cigarette butts, luxury plastic bag bags, repurposing Christmas trees, and lithium batteries. Dive in!

Season 2

The following sections refer to this Business Insider World Wide Waste series season 2 video.

Plastic Bricks

I saw this almost a year ago and was impressed at the enterprise and had my few thoughts. Unfortunately (and unavoidably) the process releases fumes because the plastics are heated to very high temperatures, and there should really be a huge charcoal filter to draw those fumes out of the air. But as the purpose is to nail down plastic that would otherwise be in landfill . . .

. . . and yeah, there you have the other issue - it's still being disposed of in landfills, just right on the surface not buried. As mentioned in the article, this is not the ideal solution as abrasion from vehicle tyres still creates microplastics, there's one more ray of light on the horizon: electric vehicles are a bit lighter on roads than fossil fuelled vehicles because light weight equals more range out of a given battery capacity - and EV manufacturers really want to alleviate range anxiety

So a mixed thing for me. Combine their materials (prepared with lower temperatures so it's not so toxic) with Precious Plastics' sheet press and you could create a very durable flooring material for foot traffic areas. Tempting, anyone? 

Butte toxic lake, waste rock, remediation

This comprises two episodes, one focusing on the birds and one on Butte itself. As they're part and parcel related I've lumped them together in this entry.

The lake produces a small tourist income, yep. But it comes at the expense of continuously exposing migrating birds to sulfuric acid, and not on actually remediating the lake or the town as the mining company should. It's just a sop, an appearance of doing something

The town is built on 'waste rock' which is poisoning the soil, and covered in half a metre of soil - why not force the company to strip back the topsoil, put the waste rock into the lake to slowly fill it up over a decade or two? And then properly fix the soil this time? 

And while you're at it, all that recovered, mixed, and not useful for precision applications plastic from a few episodes back - why not use them to make a series of cylinders the size of 200L (44gal) drums, and float those on the surface of the lake to scare birds off? 

Then as you tip more rock in, the drums get confined to a smaller and smaller area and finally you break them up and burn them for energy.

The important thing to realise is that if the people minding that lake had a different guaranteed income such as a Universal Basic Income (UBI) they'd still come there because they enjoy it. 

Also know that if  Arco (the current owner of the Anaconda mine property) were to really pay for real remediations  they'd be circling bankruptcy and trying to pay almost as much as the mine's profits over its entire operation.

We need to start realising that money is at its basis a fiction, and worth nothing in the face of the disasters we're about to encounter. 

Vegan Leather.

They call this great material 'leather' but it's better than leather, it deserves a better name. And to see it with stamped-on snakeskin or alligator embossing seems depressing. Instead of 'leather' maybe find a unique name like 'appeel' (- heck, come on! People got away with the name naugahide for heaven's sake -) and pattern it to look unique and new. Make it stand out. 

This material needs to be more publicised. Ask any alligator or snake. 

Plastic Bag Kicks

This does get soft (LDPE, Low Density PolyEthylene) out of the waste stream. For a while, until the shoes are thrown out. Which is better than a blowing wasteland of discarded plastic bags. 

Also good is that they use a polyester canvas made from PET bottles for the uppers. So is the fact that even if the shoe has to be recycled it's now a dense mass of LDPE and PET rather than paper-thin sheets and bottles.

One thing that's a bit less appealing is that trend I've mentioned already, to embed seeds in everything and call it green when in fact in some ecosystems it could become an invasive weed. I wish they'd stop doing this. . .

Wind Turbine Recycling

Wind turbine blades are, as admitted in this episode, only going to form 1% of waste in another decade or so. And now comes a tentative nibble at some of the larger issues, as alluded to in my very early sidetrack.

Firstly, we need to need less energy. That's problematic already and only going to get worse as we transition to electric transportation and as global temperatures necessitate more cooling but with some new technology on the horizon, it's going to be attainable.

Secondly, There are a couple of other uses for these blades than just burning them for energy and two are shown, but the internal details of these blades wouldn't be common knowledge, which might account for there not being more uses for them. 

Just in the few seconds here I thought of two, three, or four identical blades set vertically in foundations and supporting something like an observation platform over a wildlife park or natural scene.

Or (wild idea being thrown out here) three, arrange in a teepee formation and skinned with recycled plastic panels and recycled wood interior, use it as the tourist centre at a wind or solar farm or some recycling operation. Great publicity! 

Recycled Polystyrene

It's a dangerous plastic as it's toxic when burned or overheated and is flammable, but I'd rather see it in solid chunks than lightweight fluffy packaging (SINGLE USE!) and insulation. (Which it's good at but not the ideal solution.)

It can be broken down by mealworms into - well, mealworm poo - which is safe to use as a soil for crops. A pseudomonas type bacterium can convert styrene oil into a biodegradable plastic. So it can be broken down.

It produces horrible smoke when burned and it catches fire easily. It melts just above about the boiling point of water. 

In dense (unexpanded) form it is sometimes used to make plastic cutlery and yoghurt tubs and similar, but with the low Tg (Glass Transition Temperature aka softening/melting point) I might prefer other cutlery. And anyway - disposable convenient cutlery is bad. Right? 

I also remember that I had several plastic models as a kid that were made from PS and the glue was horrible stuff that gave me headaches unless I kept a window open. 

So these guys might just be the saviours of the Revell model lineup...  

Lavender Soil Rehabilitation

Lavender is a cash crop that grows in poor soils, but so does mallow. And I realise that (given how we still believe that money and 'the economy' are important) making some income from the remediation seems to be important, but believe me, it isn't. 

That's why I can see that growing a culinary product in polluted soil seems to be the only way out of this, but perhaps there's a clever dodge going on here.

The mining company is held responsible for the remediations. And for damages arising. But they've now seemingly offloaded some of that responsibility to the organisation in this episode. 

And the lavender must be drawing out toxins and metals from the soil. Since the plants can't magically make that disappear, it's still in them.

Then parts get sold as essential extracts and culinary herbs. When the inevitable poisonings and issues arise from ingesting all of that, who is now responsible for damages? The original mining company, or the people that are selling the product?

The trouble with this scenario is that it seems far-fetched and Machiavellian. Until you look at the track records of big corporations . . .

Refrigerator Recovery

It's another good effort. Cleanly draining refrigerants is - well, to do anything else would be beyond just common criminl and into super-villain level crime. So identifying the gases and sending them to be destroyed if they're CFC based and re-using them if they're still legal to use, is a good way to deal with this toxin. 

The description of how the illegal gases are destroyed, also points out how enough energy can disassemble anything. Remember this whenever someone says that a particular material is too difficult to neutralise and decompose quickly. 

Energy is becoming cheaper and cheaper both in monetary and environmental terms, and there are now also technologies that promise to deal with the heat problem. Go to the footnote and subscribe to the newsletter for the article that I'm currently researching about this. 

The inslulation. Powdered, it can probably be put in road mix just as much as any other plastics can. Failing that, it too is susceptible to large amounts of energy to burn it back to base elements.

Shampoo Bars

Shampoo bars are a good idea. That is all. Think how many shampoo bottles hit the waste stream every day, and while those may be HDPE and LDPE (High Density PolyEthylene and Low Density PolyEthylene) and very recyclable, it's still another waste to corral and wrangle, so shampoo bars in paper packaging are a good direction.

Carbon Tiles

As I watched this I realised that here was a thing that at its basis went back to artisans thousands of years ago - when having a tiled floor was a symbol of wealth, a useful way to prevent the soil under where you lived from shifting, and a more easy to clean floor.

These tiles don't need kiln firing but instead use a press and water curing process. That alone means they are eco-friendlier than ceramic tiles that do need firing.

And I wish large companies making ceramic tiles would undertake to make such tiles - but without the inevitable shortcuts those large companies make, without themselves becoming a source of pollution.

And I wish people understood that such flooring isn't a given, and isn't even necessary. I'm also thinking that waste-consuming technologies like those plastic/sand pavers should be developed into a system for making tile flooring that can be used in houses in place of the tons of environment-damaging concrete.

Think about this: Laminated wooden flooring is better for forests and the environment, yes. But it's made with epoxies and resins that aren't as friendly. And of course you're again skating that thin line between durability and decompose-ability. 

So more projects like this please. 

Food Waste Compost

All food waste recovering systems are good in my book. The only thing better than turning food into compost and/or biogas is if the food is caught at the stage before it becomes unfit for consumption and given away / distributed / turned into a more durable food product that can be distributed to those in need. Go for it!

Cigarette Butt Re-use

Here's a thing that's kind of cool. The gathering of cigarette butts for the filters which are then cleaned and made into a fluffy filling for teddy bears and soft toys.

But as that item says, the filters contain heavy metals. I'd want to know for sure that they were really really clean before I bought one of the teddies but there's so much more that gets recycled from a simple cigarette butt that it's an eye-opener.

The paper, still having nicotine in it, is turned into mosquito repellent sheets and I think I'd prefer that to malaria or dengue fever so this too is a brilliant adaptation to get every bit of use out of the resource.

It's all a good and fairly thorough use of every part of the resource, and all production operations could learn something from small operations that are this thorough.

Luxury Plastic Bags

This goes right up there with the plastic bag kicks and general plastic recycling. Anything we can divert from the waste stream until technology and energy come up to the point where we can decompose the plastics back to base elements, is good. 

Also, just like the ring-pull bags, they allow a story to be told, an awareness to be created. Keep the processes clean, keep up jobs, and make sure people that buy them come away impressed at how much can be done with the things that we currently, thoughtlessly, throw away.

Christmas Trees

Every year a sizeable portion of the world's population holds a religious festival that I reckon causes more pollution in a few weeks than we make for the next six months. (BTW I'd welcome anyone that has figures for this to contact me. Use the Contact Me link just a short way down in the footer and let me know.)

Knowing that the trees that are grown specifically for this festival and then become waste, this use of them is a bittersweet thing. It's lovely that they end up naturally decomposing back into the ecosystem and providing shoreline stabilisation as well. Also, these live trees still have a smaller carbon footprint than plastic trees.

And I realise that the trainee pilots would probably fly just as many hours on exercises as they do when using the trees for practice, so I'm okay with it because it repurposes two things, pilot time and ritual objects. 

EV Batteries

This is actually one of the episodes I had the most issue with. Car batteries were an issue - once. Then the industry realised what an almighty muckup lead actually was, and within a few years lead became one of the most recycled resources on the planet. 

Mild prevarications aside, the out and out scaremongering: ". . . and sometimes . . . . . . . . lithium batteries . . . explode . . ." has to be one of the most cringeworthy things that I've ever seen. Even when the series was aired, the problems had been mostly ironed out, and - especially in the EV battery industry - it became a non-factor in buying an EV. 

The company being profiled in this episode could have possibly done a bit more towards actually recovering lithium from the batteries, but okay - there's still more research than actual lithium recovery going on, and it's still early days. 

The video also shows people manually opening an EV battery pack and implies that EV battery packs are that difficult to recyle - but most often these aren't opened like that for scrapping, but for possible reconditioning. I'd rather see battery packs recycled by hand because it'll lead to more of the materials being recovered.

And in any case, EV batteries aren't a huge component of the battery waste stream. Worldwide only 9% of Lithium Ion Batteries ("LIBs") get recycled and the rest go to landfill, and almost 100% of these LIBs are cellphone, power tool, laptop, and similar devices' batteries. 

EV battery packs still aren't so commonplace that they just get thrown out wholesale, because as mentioned a few paragraphs back they can be reconditioned, and of most battery packs only a relatively small number of cells are faulty so EV packs are still treated as a valuable resource.  

Also before I close this segment I'd like to mention home solar batteries, which are also starting to enter the battery waste stream. We do need more research into recovering the elements of LIBs.


In addition to writing these articles I'm also experimenting with ways of recycling waste that can be done at the cottage industry or community hub levels, not so much because it'll magically convert 100% of local waste into recycled useful articles, but because people who are doing these sorts of activities are likely to talk about them to people in their community, and so raise even more awareness of the issues and dangers.

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