Updated: Sep 4
As seen in the January 2020 Issue of APeeling
The way we live today has resulted in an environmental disaster, with increased amounts of garbage making its way into our ecosystems. With all major cities in Canada having a recycling program, it may surprise you to discover that Canada only recycles 11% of its plastic waste, with the rest going to landfills, water systems, and roadsides. (1) Since the 1980s, we have been talking about the three R's - Reduce - Reuse - Recycle - and our governments have created new waste management services to bring our recyclable waste to manufacturers who can reuse it in the production of new products for us to use and throw away. So why do we have a garbage problem?
Recyclable waste ends up in our environment due to the inefficiency of the waste management process. The current system is fraught with rising costs, falling profits, and increasing environmental devastation. It is time for a new way of processing our recyclable waste to make it efficient, profitable, and environmentally friendlier.
The Current Recycling Waste System
The municipal government's recycling process consists of five steps:
Recycling into new manufactured products. (2)
Each step has multiple steps, leading to contamination, pollution, and decreased profits for waste management companies. "Our biggest concern and our biggest challenge today is municipal solid waste and contamination in our inbound stream," James Delvin, CEO of ReCommunity Recycling, which operates 31 facilities in 14 states, told Green is Good Radio. "It's an economic issue if you think about we go through all this effort to process this material, and roughly 15 to 20 percent of what we process ends up going back to the landfill. It's incredibly inefficient to do that." (3)
Let's look at each step of the process:
Collection of Recycled Materials
We all have the best intentions when we recycle. However, we are lazy in our recycling efforts because instead of educating ourselves about what is recyclable and cleaning our recycling before putting it into the bins, we contaminate our recycling with garbage.
There are more recycling materials than demand for them, resulting in excess waste being stored or placed in landfills because no one is buying it. Calgary tried storing 200 tonnes of clamshell plastic containers while waiting for the recycling market to purchase them; however, due to storage costs hitting $330,000, they buried the clamshell packaging in the local landfill. (7)
Canada is not the only country experiencing a lack of demand issue. "A large portion of America's plastic and paper waste used to go from our recycling bins to China, where it was refashioned into everything from shoes to bags to new plastic products. But since the end of 2017, China has restricted how much foreign trash—er, recycling—it buys … As a result, The Atlantic reported Tuesday, some American cities and towns are sending all those recyclables directly to the landfill." (5)
When you add up the costs of collecting our recycling, only to have to send it to the landfill after paying to sort it and store it, the costs to taxpayers are wasteful. Still, the bigger concern is the cost to the environment, which is irreversible.
Transportation of Recycled Materials
You see the big trucks come and collect your household waste and feel good because you've done your part to help the environment; however, have you considered what it costs to collect your recycling? Not only do municipalities need to buy specialized equipment, hire people, and build a facility to store the recycling until it can be sent to a sorting or conversion facility, but it also costs us environmentally due to carbon emissions.
Recycling Material Sorting Facilities
Since municipalities send our recycling to sorting facilities as one big pile of garbage, the cost to sort our garbage reduces the profitability for recycling companies, which are overwhelmed with the amount of contaminated material along with the amount of recycling materials available to them. If the cost of sorting, bailing, and transporting the material is higher than what manufacturers will pay, our recycling will end up at the landfill.
Take glass, for instance; broken glass can contaminate paper and plastic products. It is heavy, so the cost of transporting it is high, and the cost of sand is lower than the cost of recycled glass, so it costs cities money to recycle it. (4)
Conversion of Recycled Material
Once the recycling materials have been sorted and pressed into bales, it is sent to be shredded, melted, or crushed into raw materials for reuse before being sold to manufacturers.
Most of our recycling was purchased by China until they closed their borders to our trash. Other developing countries have picked up the contracts; I'm sure you heard about the Canadian recycling company that sent shipping containers full of garbage to the Philippines and caused an International crisis. The environmental impact is huge when you consider the emissions of the trucks and the cargo ships that take our trash to the developing world for conversion. A cargo ship running on diesel will emit as much sulfur into the air as 50 million to 59 million new diesel cars, depending on which study you read. (6)
Manufacturing with Recycled Material
The demand for recycled materials has decreased due to thinner bottles, lower new resource prices, and the switch to digital from paper consumption. The value of one tonne of recycled material went from $180 in 2011 to $80 in 2015 and has not recovered to a highly profitable level. (4) When you consider that "The value of recovered waste products has plummeted over the past five years, and the amount of effort required to extract them has risen." (4), you can see the future of recycling is in trouble without serious innovation.
The current system isn't working. It's time for an innovative answer.
We all want to do our part and recycle our waste so it doesn't end up in landfills. However, our efforts are not resulting in a cleaner world or a cleaner home with overflowing collection bins waiting for someone to empty them.
Zero Waste Inc. is designing a solution to our garbage problem with a new collection system, which resolves the problem of inefficiency across the whole recycling industry and makes our lives cleaner and easier.
Zero Waste's Solution
Collection, Sorting, and Conversion of Recycled Material
The solution starts with a new collection Zero machine, which scans the materials in our hands and provides instructions to eliminate the contamination. Say you have a paper coffee cup with a lid, and it is 1/3 full of cold coffee; the machine will scan the item, ask you to pour out the coffee, and then tell you which bin to put the lid in and which one to put the cup in. It has a points system to incentivize people, which companies can utilize to reward their clients.
Since the machine scans the item on the molecular level, it can ensure the material is sorted without contamination and shreds it into raw materials at the point of collection. Once the bin is filled with shredded material, the machine wraps it with compostable plastic and stamps it with a bar code. The bar code is then uploaded onto an e-commerce site for manufacturers to purchase, all before the cup has left the premises.
Transportation & Manufacturing of Recycled Material
The need for large-sized garbage trucks to collect the materials will be gone because energy-efficient vehicles pick up the packaged materials and deliver them to the closest manufacturers who have purchased the materials.
Zero Waste Inc.'s new system will reduce the cost of the recycling process from collection to delivery to manufacturer by 90%. Yes, 90% will make the recycling industry a profitable option for manufacturers rather than being subsidized by the taxpayer. Municipalities will save money in collection with cheaper vehicles to pick up the packages and remove the cost of sorting the material to sell to companies who manage it and deliver it to the manufacturers. Since the costs of collection, sorting, and transportation have been reduced, the cost of recycled raw material for manufacturers can be lower than using new resources, thereby ensuring a profitable use of our garbage.
What will you do to improve the problem of increased waste polluting our world? Share in the comments to inspire others!