Thanks for correcting me on Robin's name. I don't know him, but I do know Bob Krasowski, and Bob's emailed response was sent to Ingen too. I guess Bob didn't know him either.
I was responding entirely to the argument Robin advanced and nothing else. It seemed to fit a destructive pattern that I've seen elsewhere many times. But if we're all going in generally the same direction, then I'm relieved. One less thing to fight about. I did visit Robin's Retroworks home page and urge others on the Greenyes listserve to do the same.
The electronics recycling part of Retroworks looks like an interesting business, something like the ones that now want to take Urban Ore's printer cartridges. I do know that market conditions, trading networks, and technologies for recyclables are changing fast and continuously, as are regulations and incentives. So it may be that the specialists around here have solved one or more of the technical problems Robin is concerned about.
Also, I think that having an operating recycling business is good for a business that started out offering just business management expertise. It makes the business consulting more grounded, more real, when you have an operation that actually does something useful.
I hope you got an earlier email I sent in response to Keith's question about whether Urban Ore recycles everything. If not, let me know and I will forward. It deals with the topics you bring up in your second paragraph below.
As for the example of Boston's glass, I think we need to know more. For example, are all bottles recycled into sand, or just the ones too contaminated to be made into new glass? Does Boston have source separation, or single-stream mixing and contamination at curbside? Or both?
Berkeley has source separation so most bottles are sold to bottle manufacturers color-sorted, but some collection systems, like the City's restaurant program, are dirtier, so a ceramic-contaminated feedstock is also produced, I think. Elsewhere I've seen sand made from mixed bottle glass and it turns brown and looks like normal beach sand to me. Feels like beach sand too. I doubt that its only market is for landfill construction. How about using it in concrete?
Urban Ore, Inc.
A reuse and recycling company since 1980
On Jul 9, 2007, at 9:04 AM, Doug Koplow wrote:
I think you and some of the other posters are being a bit harsh to Robin (not "Ingen"), and perhaps missing some of the underlying points he was trying to make in his post that you have characterized as "sophistry." He has also been working hard to boost recycling rates for decades, including of many hard-to-handle waste streams, (see http://www.retroworks.net/Home.html
). I think it would be hard to characterize him as somebody opposed to improving recycling systems continuously over time.
The basic premise that there are waste streams that don't make sense to recycle right now doesn't seem to be one that should be controversial, even on this list. Of course better product designs (in many cases forced via producer responsibility initiatives) and eliminating subsidies to landfilling (and increasingly to incineration and burning anything to make energy and now biofuels too) should improve our option set over time. Public policies should be focused on changing these baseline conditions. Unfortunately, at the federal level at least I'm seeing lots of policies that impede and disadvantage recycling and not many holding disposal to account.
But, there are still tradeoffs. For example, most of metropolitan Boston (including many of the surrounding suburbs) dutifully collects its glass bottles only to have them turned into mixed, crushed glass aggregate that is "recycled" as landfill drainage fill. Better than having to truck in new fill, advocates say. Perhaps. Or perhaps not once one considers the tens of thousands of people rinsing out their bottles with hot water, spending time separating and hauling them, then shipping them at lower pack densities via heavy diesel truck for crushing, and reshipment to a landfill.
If landfills were run for the benefit of the people rather than the benefit of the landfill companies (not a bad sounding idea), would that mean in your estimation that there would be no more landfilling? No more incineration? What are the most important changes you think would happen?
You mentioned higher landfill prices as an important impetus for boosting recycling rates. Based on your time in the industry, what are the other 3 or 4 key impediments to recovering the massive tons of raw materials we are now tossing and burning? I'd be quite interested in your thoughts (and those of others) on this issue.
Earth Track, Inc.
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Cambridge, MA 02140
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>>> Dan Knapp <email@example.com
> 7/8/2007 8:17 PM >>>
I'm CEO of Urban Ore, Inc. in Berkeley, a reuse and recycling company for 27 years. I believe that you cited my company in a recent email to Bob Krasowski.
There is no Urban Ore in SF except for when we send one of our trucks over there to pick up a load. And although I've heard the name Brooke Nash, my brain can't connect that name to any face.
In any event, she (or he) got it wrong. Urban Ore does not believe in landfilling at all. In fact we advocate ending government grants to private waste companies of any more permitted airspace for filling. No new landfills, no expansion of existing landfills. We applaud North Carolina for its one-year moratorium on landfilling, and recently supported citizen activists there asking for a five-to-ten year extension of the ban. We also want governments to take back already permitted airspace and run it for the benefit of the people, not garbage companies. We want permitted airspace for garbage burial to be priced fairly all over, which is to say expensively. Ending the artificial expansion of its supply will accomplish this. We think this is a key part of the strategy to get to zero waste, which we think is feasible.
For whatever it's worth, the idea of burying resources with the idea of using them later is an old one, although it has its hazards. What if the dog forgets where he put the bone? In a few weeks, the buried bone is reduced by much smaller decomposers to the calcium, which has turned as brown as dirt and is about as appetizing as dirt to the dog. In the trade this disposal practice is often called "balefill." I remember some advocates promoting balefill in Hawaii and maybe Florida, but Urban Ore never signed on. >From Urban Ore's perspective, balefill is as baleful a disposal option as waste incineration, methane burning, alternative daily cover, dirty mrfs, garbage composting, and all the other wacky wierd fake recycling strategies that waste interests dream up.
Your example of spent printer cartridges is interesting because as a reuse and recycling company, I have fairly frequently to respond to competitive bids from other specialized companies for the supply of various material substreams that our reuse operations can generate. Rigid plastics have recently become commodified in this way, and that category includes but is not limited to printer cartridges. Our approach is to tour their facilities, find out what they do with the materials, and go with the best overall disposal service provider. Often this involves some revision in our handling protocols. That's just business as usual. It's nice to be paid for the commodity, but recycling it also saves us $100 per ton on our garbage bill, not to speak of labor costs from treating it as waste, so it makes even more business sense to conserve.
It's interesting that the two other examples you pick to illustrate your point are so extreme.
Your "sending-a-boat-for-the-last-aluminum-can-on-the-island" metaphor betrays a contempt for admittedly idealistic and hopeful recycling enthusiasts like me that only a garbage guy could love. No recycler actually in the business would ever be so stupid as to send a boat for that one single can.
Your single example of a single plastics load that cost an estimated $900 per ton for someone to recycle once long ago does not in any way support the Real Big Idea that you insinuate rather than state, which is that recyclers don't get paid quite well when they produce clean feedstocks and valuable products. How well is quite well? Well enough to stay in business, many of us, for decades. Well enough to grow. Well enough to pay our hired help and our vendors and our landlords. Well enough to compete with well-capitalized waste interests for supply when we're not prevented from doing so by government regulations or outright interference from the waste management establishment.
How about the other millions of tons recycled that support the 56,000 recycling business entities that the EPA found in their 2003 study, a 37-year-old business phenomenon collectively already as big as the US auto industry, and growing?
Ingen, your arguments are sophistry.
Urban Ore, Inc.
A nonvirtual reuse and recycling company
PS: I agree with Bob's statement about the importance of design for recycling, dated July 8 below.
Up stream Design, Design, Design is the answer. If there are ink cartridges that can be recycled why are there others that can not. If the design criteria for all new products included reuse or recycling standards for the end of the products life there would be no, or Zero, wasted widgets.
If the cartridge isn't designed to be made out of recyclable materials and designed to be disassembled for recycling at the end than it shouldn't be made. Un-recyclability and wastefulness are symptoms of bad design, poor planing, or out and out disregard for the general good due to an overriding selfish objective. (cancerous capitalism as opposed to healthy growth capitalism) Or maybe it's just an indication of ignorance due to perpetual notions.
The Florida Alliance for a Clean Environment
Alan, your response is politically correct, but your answer #2 ignores
the premise of the question, which is what can/should be done with the
portion which is NOT economically recyclable. For ink cartridges
which are rejected (not refurbishable) my understanding is that the
toner is bad for the recycling process, and they would have to be
shredded and washed prior to recycling, which might in fact be less
ecologically advantageous than incinerating them.
One decent response I remember hearing, (I think it was from Urban Ore
in SF via Brooke Nash), is that separating economically non-recyclable
streams into cells in a landfill, to be dug up and recycled later when
there is new technology or a sufficient quantity, might be better (you
could always incinerate them later if it proved a mistake). Another
is that for materials which abound but are not yet commercially
recyclable, that recycling at an economic or environmental
disadvantage is "priming the pump" and will be justified in the long
run. In 1994 I remember a Cape Cod community showed the cost of
recycling their first load of HDPE plastic cost them $900 per ton, and
said it would have been better to incinerate. If there is enough
supply, the extra expense of recycling is part of "scaling" which
exists in any business, it's the cost of producing the very first
widget. Arguably in either of these cases, we could store up enough
of the un-refurbishable ink cartridges to eventually recycle them when
demand is there. But that's also known as "speculative accumulation"
which is (rightly) frowned on by environmental agencies.
In any case my broader point is that I don't really think recyclers or
environmentalists do ourselves good in the long run just saying that
the reasons not to incinerate are "well-known". I am a critic of
"zero waste" when it is used to justify sending a boat for the last
aluminum can on an island... at some point the cost of recycling the
last can will cost more environmentally than recycling it.
For analogy, consider a hospital with a "Zero Death" policy... it
sounds good to say that the hospital will not accept a single patient
dying, but using the last of the hospital's resources to prolong the
life of a one-hundred year old patient will lead to a shortage and
more deaths in the long run. When "zero waste" means that waste is
never a preferred outcome, that's fine. But a lot of rotten meat got
disposed of in New Orleans when the refrigerators stood idle in the
Louisiana heat without electricity after Hurricane Katrina. I would
hate to see limited environmental currency used to avoid disposal or
incineration of rotten meat.