Recycling Stalled

Recycling is an important part of the strategy for keeping planet Earth livable for future generations—not to mention making lives more enjoyable today. After all, no one wants to end up neck deep in garbage. Most recycling revolves around paper, metal, plastic, and glass. However, recycling efforts are starting to stall in America and other countries for various reasons. A common theme is that recycling doesn’t generate enough money to make it practical as a for profit effort. The companies tasked with obtaining, recycling, and selling the materials don’t make enough money to remain viable.

Of course, theories abound as to why this problem occurs, but the bottom line is that recycling must increase. Most countries recycle less than 50 percent of the waste that people generate (34 percent in America according to a number of sources), which means that the landfills still fill at a prodigious rate. I know that some people point to ancient civilizations that survived just fine without recycling, but the earth’s population also continues to grow and we will end up neck deep in garbage sooner than later at the current rate of use. A few people have embraced a radically new idea of simply moving to another planet once this one is used up, but barring some major advance in space travel, I don’t think that particular idea will work.

A major problem is that some companies have a hard time finding profitable venues for selling the recycled goods they make. You can find sites online that discuss all the innovative uses for recycled materials, but the fact is that the companies actually doing the work still say that profits are low and customers continually get more picky about the materials they’ll accept. In order to make sorting the materials easier and to ensure customers will actually buy the recycled materials, it’s up to individuals to ensure they do their part. For example, rather than stick an entire packing carton in the big blue bin, make sure you separate the materials to remove the materials that a company can’t recycle (such as Styrofoam) from those that it can. Sloppy consumer habits have actually resulted in the disappearance of some public recycling bins, such as those in shopping centers like Walmart.

Keeping some materials out of the garbage can in the first place can help you as well as the company responsible for performing the recycling. For example, composting materials (such as food) to create soil for items you can grow yourself saves money in the long run and makes it a lot easier to recycle the glass and other materials that currently end up creating a huge mess at the recycling company. In addition, ensuring you actually sort the materials according to the conventions for your local community will help.

The point is that recycling will continue to stall until everyone does their part. Ultimately, this effort may require that governments step in and provide financial incentives to keep recycling going (although, it would be better if they didn’t have to). Let me know your thoughts on why you feel recycling is stalling at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Technology and Child Safety

I recently read an article on ComputerWorld, Children mine cobalt used in smartphones, other electronics, that had me thinking yet again about how people in rich countries tend to ignore the needs of those in poor countries. The picture at the beginning of the article says it all, but the details will have you wondering whether a smartphone really is worth some child’s life. That’s right, any smartphone you buy may be killing someone and in a truly horrid manner. Children as young as 7 years old are mining the cobalt needed for the batteries (and other components) in the smartphones that people seem to feel are so necessary for life (they aren’t you know).

The problem doesn’t stop when someone gets the smartphone. Other children end up dismantling the devices sent for recycling. That’s right, a rich country’s efforts to keep electronics out of their landfills is also killing children because countries like India put these children to work taking them apart in unsafe conditions. Recycled wastes go from rich countries to poor countries because the poor countries need the money for necessities, like food. Often, these children are incapable of working by the time they reach 35 or 40 due to health issues induced by their forced labor. In short, the quality of their lives is made horribly low so that it’s possible for people in rich countries to enjoy something that truly isn’t necessary for life.

I’ve written other blog posts about the issues of technology pollution. One of the most recent is More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t. However, the emphasis of these previous articles has been on the pollution itself. Taking personal responsibility for the pollution you create is important, but we really need to do more. Robotic (autonomous) mining is one way to keep children out of the mines and projects such as The Utah Robotic Mining Project show that it’s entirely possible to use robots in place of people today. The weird thing is that autonomous mining would save up to 80% of the mining costs of today, so you have to wonder why manufacturers aren’t rushing to employ this solution. In addition, off world mining would keep the pollution in space, rather than on planet earth. Of course, off world mining also requires a heavy investment in robots, but it promises to provide a huge financial payback in addition to keeping earth a bit cleaner (some companies are already investing in off world mining, but we need more). The point is that there are alternatives that we’re not using. Robotics presents an opportunity to make things right with technology and I’m excited to be part of that answer in writing books such as Python for Data Science for Dummies and Machine Learning for Dummies (see the posts for this book).

Unfortunately, companies like Apple, Samsung, and many others simply thumb their noses at laws that are in place to protect the children in these countries because they know you’ll buy their products. Yes, they make official statements, but read their statements in that first article and you’ll quickly figure out that they’re excuses and poorly made excuses at that. They don’t have to care because no one is holding them to account. People in rich countries don’t care because their own backyards aren’t sullied and their own children remain safe. So, the next time you think about buying electronics, consider the real price for that product. Let me know what you think about polluting other countries to keep your country clean at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A New Kind of Recycling – Bicycling

I try to keep up-to-date on as many of the current recycling efforts as I possibly can because I feel strongly that reusing resources is one of the most important ways we have of reducing pollution, or at least dealing with it in a way that reduces the damage caused by the resource usage in the first place. One of the resources that see a lot of usage is cardboard, yet I often see the resource wasted in various ways or simply added to a dump somewhere. That’s why an article entitled, “Cardboard bicycle can change the world, says Israeli inventor” attracted my attention. The fact that the bicycle looks nothing like cardboard is interesting, but even more interesting is that this inventor plans to use cardboard for a wealth of other products where metal is traditionally used today.

I find it interesting that the inventor thinks he might be able to use cardboard for items such as cars. I’m not sure what the ramifications of such use would be, but it’s definitely going to prove interesting. For example, what would happen to a cardboard car in an accident? The point is that people are finding ways to use items that would be traditionally labeled junk in all sorts of ways that make the item useful again. At one time the world practiced reuse in significant ways and it looks like we’re headed in that direction again today. It’s no longer possible to waste resources as we have in the past.

What would you think about riding a bicycle made of cardboard? Can you think of other uses for resources such as cardboard that might reduce the burden on landfills? In fact, can you think of a way to reduce trash to the point where landfills aren’t even necessary any longer? The idea of recycling absolutely everything isn’t quite possible today because of the way things are packaged. However, with some effort and clever thinking, it may become possible to recycle absolutely everything at some point, but then we’ll need to have people willing to buy the recycled products. Let me know your ideas at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Moving the Chicken Coop Parts

In my previous post about the chicken coop, Starting a Chicken Coop, I talked about some of the requirements I had looked at when getting the parts for the chicken coop I wanted to build. Three of us worked together to start taking the chicken coop at my friend’s house apart. We worked carefully because some of the parts really didn’t require any deconstruction. Here we are sitting in front of the car used to transport one of the walls intact:

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Cody, our intern, is standing on the left. Kevin, an ex-Seabee and also the brains of this operation, is standing in the middle. I’m on the right. The car was most definitely overloaded with that piece of wall on its back:

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You can’t see it very well in the picture, but the car is definitely riding low. We also loaded up my Explorer and eventually we used my uncle’s truck. It took us a day and a half to break down the chicken coop and move it over to the house. We also obtained some corrugated roofing material from another friend. He had removed it from his house and saved the better looking pieces. By the time we were finished, we ended up with three distinct piles of parts:

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This pile contains some walls we thought we could use intact, the nesting box, some sheet goods, and a bit of fencing. There are also some other bits and pieces that we probably won’t use. For example, the feeding trough it way too long. I’ll deconstruct it and use the wood for another project—absolutely nothing goes to waste around here.

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This pile contains an additional wall that we thought we might need, but weren’t sure about. It also contains some bricks (we probably won’t need them) and the 2 X 4 stock used to put everything together. In addition to 2 X 4 stock, we were able to salvage some 4 X 4s, 2 x 2s, 2 X 6s, and a number of other sizes of lumber.

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This pile contains some fencing parts and the corrugated metal roofing. Actually, we’ll use that metal to surround the entire chicken coop, making it quite durable. The only new materials that the chicken coop will have are some screws (we’re reusing as many as possible) and some tar paper. Otherwise, this chicken coop is made up of pieces salvaged from everywhere, including my own basement (pieces from other projects). This is how recycling should work. Nothing will end up in a landfill anywhere—every component you see in these pictures will be used for something (even if it isn’t in this particular project).

Now that the pieces are assembled, we can start building the new chicken coop. I’ll fill you in on the details in a future post. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions about the process we’re using at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.