Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Home Scrap Facility

Because recycling doesn't pay.
 
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Now, I'm fairly eco-aware, and fairly good at recycling stuff - but I'm very aware that there are lots of people for whom this is a new thing, and who simply don't do it. I'm also aware that most of the schemes to promote recycling involve whacking people with sticks (not literally, of course; but whacking them with fines, or charging them for trash bags, or generally invoking bad karma if they don't rather than good karma if they do. That sort of stick, you know - opposite of carrot).

So.

Recycling is good because people can then take your stuff away and separate it into component parts, at which point it becomes scrap and can be sold to producers who remake it into more stuff which you buy, use, and chuck in the recycling bin, etc., etc., until the world melts and we all die. My point is, from the moment you put the stuff in the recycling bin, there's a series of value-adding processes which go on before the stuff can be reused. People make money from these processes.

What would be great would be a small home scrapping facility. Bearing in mind that it's possible to melt certain metal alloys with a domestic microwave, a higher-power version could be used to melt down your recycleable metal, while burning off some of the impurities. I'm imagining a domestic appliance with a top-loading lid and a series of buttons, all indicating types of material. You lob in your empty can, press the button for 'steel', and leave the machine to it. It would weigh the stuff, spray it down with greywater (because obviously you have a tank of that somewhere), then microwave it until it melted and ran down into a little insulated holding case where it would join all the other steel stuff you've been chucking in, forming a small block of ready-to-use low-grade scrap steel. Maybe the machine grades it, too: it could measure the melting temperature and compare the final weight with the start weight, to work out how much other crud you chucked in and thence the likely quality of the steel. Similar processes would occur for plastics, aluminium, etc.

When the machine is full, it disgorges a series of ingots of recycled materials. It also prints out labels with encoded information about the likely quality of the material and the weight of the ingot, as well as some identification details. You then take these down to the local supermarket, where the barcodes are scanned and (and this is the crucial bit) YOU GET PAID for your scrap. The amount you get depends on weight and quality, so those who spend more time cleaning and separating their rubbish will earn more (I suspect the increase in price would be considerable, as impurities in recycled materials are a big problem). The point is, you get paid the market value for something of worth to industry - not because the government has so much money they're willing to subsidize your bizarre behaviour, but because industry wants what you got. This is capitalism, baby, yeah!

Obviously, this is not as efficient as an industrial steel furnace, but I'm sure it would encourage more people to recycle their stuff. How long it would take for the machine to pay for itself is something to discuss, but it's worth considering, isn't it?

moomintroll, Jun 05 2007

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       8~) Good for a laugh, anyway! Given the price of the energy required to run it, this machine won't pay for itself in a century of sunny Sundays; it'll cost more to run than its products are worth.   

       Re-using stuff without actually melting it down is energetically efficient on a small scale. You might be able to melt some plastics economically, although actually making something usable at home, rather than returning it to the supermarket would be more likely to be economical.
Cosh i Pi, Jun 05 2007
  

       True, but there's really only so many flower pots made of plastic bottles I can use.   

       As you say, the economics of this are not feasible at the moment. But right now, our attitude to recycling is pretty lackadaisical, and the materials produced are poor quality - mostly due to the considerable amount of impurities which come in during the process (labels on bottles, etc). What I'm trying to do here is work out a way of providing a genuine and transparent incentive for people to make recycling into a way of getting higher grade materials, which will be worth more. If it could be made economically feasible, then hopefully the result would be a virtuous spiral - people would choose products that are easily recyclable, producing better quality scrap, etc., etc. How cool would that be?
moomintroll, Jun 05 2007
  

       This reminds me of Mao's "Great Leap Forward". In an attempt to industrialise China, he got everyone to set up backyard furnaces to melt any metal they had - the result was massive environmental devastation as whole forests were razed to supply fuel, starvation (everyone had melted their cooking pots, ploughs, etc.) and a lot of useless scrap metal (backyard furnaces don't get hot enough).
hippo, Jun 05 2007
  

       In many places around the world, homes are already scrap facilities.
nuclear hobo, Jun 06 2007
  

       // In many places around the world, homes are already scrap facilities. // This is quite true, and not generally very environmentally friendly ones at that. Working to make the existing ones more environmentally friendly would be very worthwhile.   

       Replacing wood or coal burning fires with simple solar furnaces would be a good move in many cases. (I'm especially conscious of this because my in-laws, in India, could really do with a solar furnace instead of further depleting the local forest.)
Cosh i Pi, Jun 06 2007
  

       Avoid recycling things: re-use them instead. The humble milk bottle would be a good example. Now they're plastic or cardboard, but they used to be glass with a little foil top. Mr. Milkman (in the UK) used to drive round in an ELECTRIC cart and pick up the empties which were washed and re-used. Now they're used once and thrown away, or driven to the local recycling center inthe SUV etc. etc. It's just PR bullshit, now.   

       By the way, with the stick and carrot: isn't the stick used to hold the carrot so that the carrot cannot be reached?
Ling, Jun 06 2007
  

       // Avoid recycling things: re-use them instead. // Absolutely! Don't recycle them until they can't be re-used any more. Then WALK (or cycle) to the recycling point.
Cosh i Pi, Jun 06 2007
  

       [hippo], my understanding of the Great Leap Forward Steel Production Debacle was that structural steel was to be produced from backyard furnaces, something which was completely ludicrous at the time and almost certainly still is. It was a propaganda move, as I'm sure you know; China was then producing more 'steel' than the UK. I'm not advocating producing finished-article construction materials in your garage (but wow, what a thing to aim for). What I'm saying is, at the moment recycling is haphazard; too many impurities get into the mix because the people who have the bet opportunity to remove them (householders) have no incentive to do so; and the whole scheme is negatively incentivised (ouch, what a phrase). It's not the turning of scrap metal into steel that I'm talking about: it's the mass transportation, sorting and cleaning of large amounts of assorted waste which I'm trying to minimize. Personally, my feeling is that blithely chucking everything into one bin so that it can be sorted out later by some poor soul in some minimum-wage job is inefficient and inelegant - but aside from something like this, I don't see any way to provide a *positive* incentive for householders to spend the small amount of time required doing it themselves.   

       [Ling] and [Cosh]: There's an argument to be had about whether reusing is really the best way of recycling. For a start, using a high-quality material for a low-quality job may not be the best use of it: if I use an aluminium can to store my loose change, am I really benefiting the environment more than if I used a paper plate and recycled the old can? It costs the world more to make an aluminium can from primary material than to make a can from recycled material AND make a paper plate. The argument then becomes about time equivalence: is there an environmental cost associated with hanging onto our can for ten years or so? In any case, it's really only time-delaying the inevitable - I think we can all agree that, whether you do it tomorrow or in ten years' time, that steel can should be recycled eventually. And besides, it is simply not possible for me to re-use everything I throw away. I'd have a house so full of rubbish I wuldn't be able to move. I think that's pretty generally true of most households at the moment.   

       And [Ling], the carrot and stick thing? The carrot is held out as an incentive, and the stick is used to hit with, as a punishment. 'Carrot and stick' implies incentive and punishment, one urging you on from in front, the other pushing you forward from behind.
moomintroll, Jun 06 2007
  

       //By the way, with the stick and carrot: isn't the stick used to hold the carrot so that the carrot cannot be reached?// And if sufficient efforts to reach the carrot are not being made, it can be used to beat the draught animal.
coprocephalous, Jun 06 2007
  

       //stick is used to hit with//
Yeah, I know that interpretation as well.
Ling, Jun 06 2007
  

       [moomintroll] // I'd have a house so full of rubbish I wuldn't be able to move. // There is that - it's a problem I'm only too familiar with. Generally I agree with you, but you've also got to consider the energy cost of transport used in collecting materials for recycling - or the energy cost of recycling inefficiently small quantities of material locally.
Cosh i Pi, Jun 06 2007
  
      
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