The United Nations estimates that every year 85 billion pounds of electronic waste get discarded all around the world. And if we look at cars this number will be doubled. How much waste do we really produce every year? And where does all our garbage end up?
Landfills have always represented the end of the journey for all our discards. Mountains of products are piled up and left aside while we keep on extracting raw materials from the earth in order to produce new goods that will be put on the market and then sold so that we can replace what that we have just thrown away. This doesn’t seem to be an efficient system!
Among the raw materials metals and plastics are the most required to produce the majority of the stuff usually demanded by customers. Costs of production, availability of raw materials, and pollution are just a few of the many arguments used to promote recycling.
Despite the pressing need of setting new strategies to manage our increasing waste, we can’t affirm that recycling campaigns have been successful enough to stop the garbage flow from cities to landfills. Someone would argue that in many countries of the developed world like the European Nations the practice of recycling has become pretty common. This is partly true since we usually divide our waste in several bins according to different categories like glass, plastic and paper, but we hardly know where our recycled garbage will end up, and how it will be re?used.
According to what William McDonough and Michael Braungart wrote in their book ‘Cradle to Cradle’, the process of recycling is often a process of downcycling since often materials with different properties are melt down together to generate new materials, but with lower qualities so that they can’t substitute the old ones. This is often the case with steel used in automobiles. Cars are made of different qualities of steel, but when they are recycled insufficient attention is paid to the different properties of each part of our vehicles. In the end, what we get is an hybrid material that can’t be used to build new cars. As a consequence, we are forced to mine new raw material.
In this context, we hopefully register a few interesting initiatives that aim to solve some of the problems mentioned above.
A good example is the US Company MBA Polymers founded by Mike Biddle in 1992 with the idea of recycling plastics trying to both avoid a downcycling process of their initial properties and get the same material at lower production costs.
Basically, the company collects rich plastic products that are often mixed together with other materials as it’s the case of many electronic devices. The collected garbage, that normally would have been incinerated with enormous environmentally consequences, is put together into a sophisticated machine that separate polymeric material from the rest of the waste, and then the selected material is divided by type and grade. In the end we have graded pellet with different properties instead of hybrid products.
It is estimated that through the whole process we can save 80% of the energy that we would need to produce virgin plastic from oil. Moreover, the separation system set up by the company allow them to produce different types of plastic with just one machine instead of only one type as it’s commonly the case with traditional technologies.