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May 12, 2005

Sorting the Trash.

Of course, it’s a good thing to sort the rubbish, yes? Makes the recycling easier, which of course, is a wonderful addition to a cleaner and better environment, yes? Have a look at this NY Times article, there are places in Japan where they have 44 different classifications which you need to sort the trash into.

The environmentally friendlier process of sorting and recycling may be more expensive than dumping, experts say, but it comparable in cost to incineration.

"Sorting trash is not necessarily more expensive than incineration," said Hideki Kidohshi, a garbage researcher at the Center for the Strategy of Emergence at the Japan Research Institute. "In Japan, sorting and recycling will make further progress."

One small thought, if it really does cost about the same amount, why must it be enforced by law? One couple even got evicted for not sorting their trash properly:

One young couple consistently failed to properly sort their trash. "Sorry! We'll be careful!" they would say each time Mr. Kawai knocked on their door holding evidence of their transgressions.

At last, even Mr. Kawai - a small 77-year-old man with wispy white hair, an easy smile and a demeanor that can only be described as grandfatherly - could take no more.

"They were renting the apartment, so I asked the owner, 'Well, would it be possible to have them move?' " Mr. Kawai said, recalling, with undisguised satisfaction, that the couple was evicted two months ago.

One thing about the cost equations. Are they measuring people’s time spent in actually sorting through trash?

On a recent morning, Masaharu Tokimoto, 76, drove his pick-up truck to the station and expertly put brown bottles in their proper bin, clear bottles in theirs. He looked at the labels on cans to determine whether they were aluminum or steel. Flummoxed about one item, he stood paralyzed for a minute before mumbling to himself, "This must be inside."

Some 15 minutes later, Mr. Tokimoto was done. The town had gotten much cleaner with the new garbage policy, he said, though he added: "It's a bother, but I can't throw away the trash in the mountains. It would be a violation."

Um, so, each household drives to the centre? Carrying what, 10-20kg of trash? In a pick-up? This is regarded as good for the environment? It takes 20 odd minutes at the centre? Plus travel time? These numbers are included in the cost calculations? Somehow I don’t think so.

What has happened is that the clear financial costs which were paid by the authorities have not changed, but the time costs paid by the citizenry have markedly increased. Not a grand addition to the work/life balance perhaps?


May 12, 2005 in Environmentalism | Permalink


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Don't forget that bottles and cans have to be washed too, normally with hot water, using detergents.

Posted by: Ian | May 12, 2005 12:17:33 PM

Bjorn Lomborg comments on this in The Skeptical Environmentalist, i.e. recycling has probably reached its limits, and adds that perhaps remaining rubbish should be merely sorted by what can be incinerated to produce power and whatcan not. He particularly remarks upon the need to factor in the innumerable car trips to the recycling station.

However, the municipality I live in in Brussels sends specific trucks around for the various kinds of sorted waste on specific days, thereby obviating all the driving about. Perhaps that tips the balance back a bit.

I always find it hard to remember which colour binbag goes out on what day, though. Or indeed what day it is.

Posted by: Auntymarianne | May 12, 2005 1:03:40 PM

Its not so much the car trip you need to take to the recycling centre, the argument against this is that recycling centres are normally where you'd go anyway, i.e. supermarkets, so the car trip itself would have been undertaken even with no recycling duty.

However, whether the recycled rubbish is picked up from the recycling centre or from bin bags outside your house, there is still a large amount of energy required to transport, sort, clean and redistribute the item. The difference between this and dumping it into an incinerator to reclaim the energy used in production is marginal, and in some circumstances can actually fall on the side of incineration as the better solution.

Much like nuclear power, incineration will never been seen as an answer to "green" issues, dispite the fact that at the end of the day we are trying to solve energy consumption. Reclaiming energy is the same as recycling it, it just doesn't have the same pithy "feelgood" factor.

The attitude is the key. No-one is going to admit that one-use throwaway syringes are a bad thing, but less people will admit the same for plastic cutlery dispite similar hygiene issues, and even less for beer bottles. the railing against the "throwaway society" is often hypocritical and forms the basis for the desire to physically recycle.

Implementing clean incinerators that contribute to the nation grid is a far better solution, but like the "zero emission" nuclear power plants, they will continue to be demonised by the environmentalists as long as facts and reality are ignored by them.

Posted by: Ian | May 12, 2005 2:22:06 PM

Just another thought, sorry, continuing on the nuclear power analogy with incinerators.

Even environmentalists accept that alternative power from wind and solar requires a "backup", the best ofcourse is a nuclear power plant, which is safe, efficient, does not use fossil fuels and is emission free.

Similarly, the best method of destroying rubbish that cannot be recycled is incineration, which is safe, actually can generate energy, will "scrub" (filter) toxic waste, and has little byproduct for landfill.

The argument is not so much wind/solar versus nuclear or recycling versus incineration, but what proportions they should be.

Arguments against incineration fail to see that even with the best recycling methods it will still be necessary to do, environmentalists offer no alternative strategy.

The problem is with incineration, once you start looking at it closely and measuring up the economics of it all, it can actually be a preferred solution over recycling, just as nuclear power can be over wind/solar.

Posted by: Ian | May 12, 2005 2:34:54 PM

Technical point: nukes are not good back-up for wind turbines. Nukes are fine for base-load generation: they're good for generating at a steady rate. To back up windies, you'd prefer a station that's good at following transient supply changes of the sort that arise when the wind gets too weak or too strong. Conventional fossil-fuelled plant is best for that (unless novel nukes have different characteristics from the old 'uns).

Posted by: dearieme | May 12, 2005 3:51:55 PM

The hell with recycling do-gooders, what are we leaving to future generations of archeologists? We need to pile up huge mounds and then build on top of them - that's how you make a damn civilization - not sorting out glass and aluminum. Sheesh!

Posted by: -keith in mtn. view | May 12, 2005 6:43:01 PM