Monday, 14 March 2011


Task 2a: Understanding Recycling

After watching the informational videos on recycling technologies and practices in “Giving Packaging a New Life” by Duales Systems of Germany, I’m amazed at hearing of some of the incredible methods and tools that people are using to recycle used materials from consumer products.

Some things for example that stood out to me were the use of infrared sensors in order to differentiate and automatically separate different types of plastic, such as polystyrene and polyethylene and PET, as well as the use of chemical solvents and rotary kilns to remove any remaining impurities from PET chips.  If recycling plants all over the world implement the technology that is being shown in these videos, I have more hope for the possibility that sustainable lifestyles (and not just sustainable design) can take root in our cultures around the globe.  From sorting by color (mainly with glass), to sorting by size, to removing metals from plastics with industrial magnets, a lot of thought has clearly been given to the recycling efforts by institutions that run recycling plants.  I suddenly think about the effort thus that not only went into building these plants and the machinery contained within but also went into designing the stages of organized recycling, step-by-step.

If recycling plants with specific-purpose machinery are being developed and implemented in areas of the world, this means that designers and engineers have been (and still are) allocating their efforts to designing and building the industrial tools that allow the recycling process in plants to take place.  It’s not as if the plants shown in these videos “just happened”—a lot of effort is being put into reusing consumed materials.  In some cases, such as the opto-electronic scanners that detect which fragments of glass must be sorted out based on the amount of light absorbed (determining the content of the glass), combined with the use of highly accurate compressed air jets to pinpoint these pieces and blow them out, the technology being implemented is astounding.  Such tools are without a doubt designed with these sole recycling uses in mind (and I presume are not cheap to design and manufacture), and the fact that they are designed specifically for recycling plants shows to me the dedication that governments and companies have for the cause of sustainable human life.

Hearing that we can limit (or even one day eliminate) the need to mine and drill for natural resources in the earth is promising, as it has been proven in existing plants that recycled goods with the right technological processes can in many cases be completely reused for new products.  Processed and reused aluminium, for example, according to the video is “no problem” for manufacturers; aluminium sheets made via recycled aluminium only uses one twentieth of the energy needed to create new aluminium goods by other means.  My personal favourite from all of the videos was hearing that ground plastic can be used in pig iron formation, and that, as such, “plastic replaces heavy oil on a one-to-one ratio, thus helping to conserve valuable resources.”  That’s amazing!

Even with all of this technology, however, sorting and reusing materials in plants is only half the battle.  The first half of the battle (and arguably most important) is for consumers, people like you and me, to care about recycling and actually give it an effort.  I think on one hand that a better world is indeed possible through sustainable processes that are covered in these videos of “Giving Packaging a New Life”, but on the other hand I’m only just now learning about half of these processes.  How much would ordinary people in society know about recycling plants, then?  I want to believe that people as a collective can change, that information will spread about what technologies are out there to make it happen, but yet on a daily basis I still see trash on the ground, even right here at the university.  I then realize that in part this trash is the fault of the companies that produce the packaging for these goods, such as single-serving granola bars and snack packets, which is plastic that in my experience is almost always thrown away.  I know it will take a lot on everyone’s part, not just the recycling plants, to fight for a smaller global human ecological footprint, and I hope we’re moving in the right direction.

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