Sunday, October 24, 2010

On Recycling

I've been a huge fan of recycling 'garbage' since I was a kid, making money recycling newspapers and aluminum cans. I still recycle cans, bottles, and newspapers today, even though I don't get paid any longer.
Where I currently live doesn't even have a collection site, so I have to take them to the local university that recycles.
From an traditional economic point of view, what I'm doing right now can not be justified, but it goes along with my last blog regarding humans as "altruistic punishers." We don't like people who are gaming the system.
Many of us hate the idea of throwing away items that could be recycled because we think in terms of cycles (one person's waste is another person's gold.)
For living creatures, one creature's decaying carcass is another's food source.

But on the other hand, the goal is to build wealth (so as to increase the entropy of the universe, i.e. bring the universe to equilibrium at a faster rate.)
If recycling a bottle consumes more exergy (wealth) and creates more pollution that making the bottle from scratch, then there is a good reason not to recycle the bottle.

We have to use our heads and really determine when it makes sense to recycle and when it doesn't make sense.

For me, I'm more apt to recycle, if solely for the fact that while I'm recycling I'm thinking about ways to build recycling power plants (for converting plastic bottles, and other non-easily recyclable products) into electricity in ways that don't do more damage to the environment that the landfill they would go into.

Plastics contain chlorine molecules. In partial oxidizing environments, chlorine-containing carcinogens can be formed. We should be looking into ways of combusting or gasifying municipal solid waste with basic components (such as sodium hydroxide) that can grab the chlorine molecules and keep them from getting into the gas phase. I think that companies like Wheelabrator use limestone as a base to react with the acidic chlorine species. (Though, I'm not positive about this.)

Whether the power plant using combustion or partial oxidation (i.e. gasification), I'm in favor of expanding the use of waste-to-electricity in the US as long as there is positive Return on Investment.

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