Fringe Projects #3: The ins and outs of recycling

Last update on 24 ottobre 2013.

Fringe Projects #3: The ins and outs of recycling

In 2011, the United States produced approximately 250 million tons of waste. To put that in terms of something more tangible, that number is roughly equivalent to 41 million elephants.


There aren’t even that many elephants left on the earth today. And that is just the waste from one country! Fortunately programs such as recycling and composting exist to help reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. But are these programs enough?


Recycling is a process that changes one material (waste) into a new product in order to re-use the useful materials from the original product. In many instances, such as in the case of aluminum, recycling is both cheaper and better for the environment than mining new materials.  In other cases however, recycling results in ‘downcycling’ into a product that cannot be further recycled. Adding to the issue of downcycling, a number of non- or difficult to recycle products are becoming ubiquitous. Coupled with a growing population and timed obsolescence, recycling is due for an update.  


Cradle-to-cradle manufacturing


Cradle to cradle initiatives are working to reduce the issue of downcycling. The idea is that the components of a product should all be recyclable into materials of equal or greater quality at the end of the product’s life. The philosophy is closely linked to the idea of ‘upcycling,’ or recycling products into products of greater quality or value. Both philosophies can be applied to any industry which makes them great ideas.


E-waste and recycling – are the two compatible?


On a more tangible note however, electronics are quickly coming to fill up landfills. In the past, these items were often shipped to lower income countries for re-sale. As the price of technology falls however, and incomes rise around the world, this market is drying up. When it comes to more traditional recycling, these items contain toxic materials, are difficult to disassemble, and traditional recycling facilities are not equipped to deal with them. Fortunately, there are organizations like Greener Gadgets, a company that will find your nearest eCycling facility in the United States. Afterlife Computers in Montréal, Canada will pick up electronics from businesses, schools and organizations and will take them to the correct recycling facility. Another great company is Envie, an organization in France that deals with electronic and electric waste. This company is unique however, as it targets both the environmental sphere and the social sphere by not only recycling electronics but also by hiring from and providing training to people from vulnerable groups. Take a look at their project sheet here. 


Should producers be responsible for the end-of-life treatment of a product?


Another big issue when it comes to recycling is how to deal with cars that have been retired. The European Union took the issue head on and passed legislation in 1997 that makes vehicle manufacturers responsible for the end-of-life treatment of their vehicles. Today, 75-80% of the weight of a typical end-of-life vehicle is reused or recycled. As cars are made up of many parts – some of which wear out long before others, this program is a great way to reduce the amount of new material required in car manufacturing.  The legislation also ensures that companies will pay more attention to the environmental effects and cost of recycling their products.


Using waste for fuel and the business of importing garbage


One final example of a system so good at recycling materials that it is actually being paid by other countries to take waste is Norway, a country that has implemented technology to turn garbage into fuel. In 2011 the country succeeded in recovering 87% of all waste produced for either recycling or energy production. Is this something you would like to see in your country? What do you think of using waste as fuel?  



Fringe Projects is a blog series we are starting at I4P. Check in every other Wednesday to learn about some controversial, inspiring or wildly imaginative projects from around the world! 

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