Tag Archives: recycling

Waste Not . . .

The plastics industry is the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States.  In fact, the US hosts half of the world’s top fifty plastics manufacturing companies.  Sales in 2014 were over $961 billion, with the US holding a sizable trade surplus in plastics.  Demand continues to rise, with consumption between 2011 and 2012 going up 5.7 percent.

Since its basic component is mineral oil, plastic is considered a petrochemical.  Some of the largest plastics manufacturers are household names in the US, including Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemicals, and Chevron Phillips.

In developed countries like the US, a third of plastics goes into packaging.  Another third is used in buildings, such as pipes, plumbing, and vinyl siding.  Other uses include toys, furniture, cars, and medical equipment, among other things.

Thanks to the fracking boom, the US is now one of the cheapest places in the world to manufacture plastics.  The chemical industry plans to spend $185 billion in the next few years to expand its capacity.  Four new plastics plants were slated to begin operations in the US in 2017.

At the same time, the US’ main export to China is—or has been—trash, including plastic trash.  It is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Since the 1980’s China has been the world’s largest importer of waste.  By 2012 56% of global exported plastic waste ended up in China, but lack of oversight led to major environmental and health problems.  Also, China’s middle class has started discarding enough waste so that the Chinese no longer need imported garbage. So, as of January 1, 2018, China has imposed a ban on imported waste.

According to the New York Times of January 11, 2018, “Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling.”  According to the article, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Britain, and Hong Kong have reported backups in their waste.  Steve Frank, of Pioneer Recycling in Oregon is looking to export to Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Malaysia.  In Britain, Jacqueline O’Donovan of O’Donovan Waste Disposal also exports and reports huge bottlenecks.  China’s ban covers 24 kinds of solid waste and sets new limits on impurities.  China notified the WTO last year it would ban some imports because of contaminants, including hazardous materials.

Germany leads the world in recycling, at 70%.  Americans generate 4.4 pounds per person per day of trash, and generate the most waste in the world, but Americans only recycle 34% of waste and only 9.5% of plastic.  Fifteen percent is burned for electricity and/or heat.  About one-third is exported, and until the ban began, half of that went to China.  The remainder goes to landfill.  It is estimated that it takes 500 years for plastic to break down.  As it does, it leaches toxic components into the ground.  But many US landfill sites are old and fast reaching capacity.

China has the highest carbon emissions in the world, as of 2011, but it also has the largest population.  The United States (third in population), Russia and India (second in population) are the next largest carbon emitters.  Emissions have grown faster than population since 1950.  Since 2000, emissions have grown twice as fast as population.

China, which has a longstanding problem with pollution, is making comprehensive efforts to improve its air and water quality.  Beijing has started promoting green technology, including waste-to-energy incineration.  With WTE, China’s stated priority is trash disposal rather than energy production.

Waste-to-energy (WTE) is a process by which trash is burned to generate electricity, steam, or both.  According to Wikipedia, the first waste incinerator was built in the United Kingdom in 1874.  The first in the US came on line in 1885 on Governor’s Island, New York.  Burning reduces original waste volume by 90-95%. The plants produce electric efficiencies of 14-28%.  Or, water is boiled to power steam generators.  Co-generation can increase efficiency to 80%.

WTE must meet strict emission requirements for nitrous oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), heavy metals and dioxins, based on worldwide emissions standards set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an inter-governmental economic organization with 35 member countries, founded in 1961.

The plants may emit low levels of particulates, heavy metals, trace dioxin, and acid gas.  There’s also toxic fly ash (which requires hazardous waste disposal installation) and incinerator bottom ash, which must be reused properly.  Lime scrubbers reduce acid gas.  Electrostatic precipitators, fabric filters, reactors and catalysts are also used.  In WTE, filters capture mercury and lead. However, even controls can’t eliminate all the dioxin, according to some claimants.

Proponents say the plants emit the same amount of nitrous oxide as coal-fired plants and have the same requirements, but WTE plants emit fewer particulates than coal.

Some European countries burn half of their waste.  Cost for the facilities can be prohibitive, at up to $1 billion.  There are 87 operational WTE facilities in the US, 431 in Europe, and 330-439 in China, depending on the internet source.* Japan is the biggest user of WTE in the world.  It burns 40 million tons of municipal solid waste annually.

Because Germans generate so little waste, the country’s WTE plants lack enough trash to supply its electricity generators.  It imports trash from the UK, Italy, and Switzerland.  Sweden imports trash, too.

The largest waste-to-energy plant in the world is currently under construction in Shenzhen, China, but protesters have succeeded in getting a delay in the project.  Babcock and Wilcox Voland of Denmark has the $40 million contract to design a 168 megawatt boiler that will consume 5600 tons/day of trash.  The roof is to be covered with solar panels.  It is expected to recover 95% of water and 90% of metals, with slag recycled as gravel.  Flue gas is expected to be 95-99% clean.  An even larger WTE plant is being planned in Dubai, capital of the United Arab Emirates, with construction scheduled to begin later in 2018.  It is projected to produce 185 megawatts.

The EPA says the US sent 33.66 million tons of waste for conversion to energy in 2013.  Fifty percent of facilities are privately owned, with Covanta Energy and Wheelabrator Labs the largest.  Most produce electricity only, and 25% produce electricity and stream.  A handful produce only steam.  Twelve states have operating WTE plants.  Florida has the most, at twelve, then New York (10), Massachusetts (7), Pennsylvania and Connecticut (6 each), Virginia and Delaware (5 each).  California, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine have three.

The largest WTE facilities in the US produce over 90 megawatts of electricity and consume around 3000 tons/day of waste.  They each serve around one million people.

In the US, the first WTE plant in 20 years opened in Florida in 2015.  It consumes 3000 tons/day of waste and cost $670 million.  The Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility in West Palm Beach, Florida is publicly owned by the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach, County and operated by Babcock and Wilcox, an international firm out of Denmark.  It is a mass burn facility and produces 95 megawatts. Advocates stress the idea that waste is a resource.

However, the new plant is not getting the loads it expected.  The county already had a WTE plant, in operation since 1989.  There was a fear that landfill would reach capacity around 2022-2023, so the new plant received little public resistance.  There are substantial controls on emissions.  Emission requirements allow for 110 pounds of mercury/year.  The price of the electricity is competitive.  They test for the toxicity of the ash.

An argument against incinerators is that they compete with recycling. Recycling has increased three-fold over the 1980s.  Still, it’s cheaper to make new paper than to recycle, and China’s new ban on trash imports includes mixed paper.

There is a $1 billion facility planned for Baltimore, but it is meeting with public resistance.  Opponents object to emissions so close to a school and blame WTE facilities in Detroit and Harrisburg, PA for those cities’ bankruptcies.  However, WTE industry representatives claim that Harrisburg continued to refinance its facility and to pull cash out for the general fund.  The cost went from $15 to $240 million.  The plant sold for $130 million.

The trajectory of plastics from production to disposal presents a growing problem worldwide, including in the oceans, where huge “gyres,” of floating debris have formed in five separate locations.  The best known is the “Great Pacific Garbage Dump,” which some say is at least the size of Texas.  If there were ever an industry looking for jobs, the pollution control industry would be one of them.

* A problem with internet research is that data is often old, sometimes without posted dates. Some is promotional (so possibly biased), often superficial, and hard to verity.

Advertisements

Here’s How 061416: “Value Added Packaging”

pkgadvalue061316

I consider it a triumph when I can extend the life of packaging beyond a single use. To add value to packaging sometimes requires as little as soaking labels off jars or cutting the flaps off a box.  Then I can re-label as needed, using masking tape and a felt pen.

This photo shows some of the uses I’ve found. Jars, preferably those with metal tops, work for everything from keeping mice out of chicken food (and pantry supplies) to serving as storage containers for my dried herbs.  Claussen pickle jar, chutney jar, and preserves jar shown.  The preserves jar holds my chocolate chip/dinner mint/nut snack food.  The tall jar is a re-purposed red wine vinegar jar that serves as a pen dispenser.  It dispenses one pen at a time.  The plastic topped jars that I’ve converted into “Supreme Court Balls Starter Kits” held Publix natural peanut butter (crunchy).

The “Supreme Court Balls Starter Kits” were an inspiration following the infamous 5-4 “Kelo” (eminent domain) decision of 2005. This land grab by Pfizer pharmaceuticals, acting through the New London, Connecticut City Council, invalidated property rights for individuals when a higher bidder comes along.  Subsequent events by all levels of government have proved they are quick to eminent domain property whenever it suits their financial interests.  The jars pictured here hold coins.  One is full of pennies, $6.80 when filled to the brim.  The pennies weigh 2.025 kilos or 4.45 pounds.  The jar holds 400 ml or 1.75 cups of water.  It is 12.7 cm (5 inches) high and 24.75 cm (9.75 inches) in circumference.  So this jar is also a teaching tool for metrics.  It also highlights my belief that saving spare change in jars is a good hedge against bank failure, since they can’t be hijacked by a keystroke, they retain metal value, are hard to steal, and don’t burn up in a fire.

I imagine the “Supreme Court Balls Starter Kits” and the accompanying “Supreme Court Balls Designer Labels” will be worth a lot of money when people wise up to what the Supreme Court has done to individual property rights.

scblabels0907

The metal spice container is now a salt shaker that allows me to add uncooked rice in the large middle opening and shake the salt out of the shaker opening. This is necessary in the humid South, because rice alone does not keep the shaker holes from getting clogged.  For this, it is necessary to close the top.

The yogurt containers (or any dairy container, such as those for sour cream) are useful for cooked food or to freeze cooked food. They are also great for giveaway food.  This maneuver serves the dual purpose of adding food value to used containers and getting rid of the packaging without having to throw it away.  Note the mouse-damaged plastic top that prompted me to transfer chicken food from yogurt container to glass jar.

The home-made pesto is in a re-purposed cake icing container.

Old spice jars are also good for storing small items, like hooks and screws. Film containers (for those of us who still use film cameras) store things like razor blades and small screws.

Then there’s the grocery store produce bag, which can keep whole bowls of food fresh in the refrigerator. This one is protecting grated cheese.

Old shoe boxes make great storage containers for CDs and photographs. Any de-flapped box becomes a great, lightweight tool for organizing and storing clutter.  I use them as trash cans, too.

pkgadva061316

Then, there’s the tool room, where old tin cans serve to organize my supplies of bolts, drill bits, and nuts. The plastic containers hold various screws, hooks, and assorted hardware, including replacement blades for the box cutter.

pkgadval061316

Chicken food, wild bird seed, and deer corn bags become trash bags. They are sturdy enough to hold sharp objects, like broken glass, without puncturing.  Buckets like the one here that held joint compound are valuable enough by themselves to be sold at outlets like Home Depot.

pkgaddva061316

Finally, the water-filled milk containers between the mint and stevia plants are an experiment. The idea is to keep plants cool on the hot deck and to have spare water if the pump breaks or the power goes out.  I washed the jugs thoroughly and added 3 drops of chlorine bleach to the water, as we were taught to do during the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s.  The versatility of concrete blocks will be explored more thoroughly in a future blog about my inventions.

 

 

Universal Domain Technology and Patents

bikerack0515

A decent bike rack is hard to find in Savannah.

My reusable shopping bag collection

My reusable shopping bag collection

I have a future in product design.  I plan to specialize in universal domain technology, remain small and focused, invent things that I need, use all the potentially useful materials that clutter house, yard, and tool shed, and produce prototypes rather than patents.

Neither Benjamin Franklin nor Thomas Jefferson believed in patents.  I’m on their side.  Patents foster secrecy, such that everybody is so busy working alone and spying on “competition,” that we have a technological revolution of incompatible electronic equipment.

Above left is a bicycle rack, with my lone bicycle parked in it.  Above right is my reusable shopping bag collection, two of them hand-sewn by yours truly.  I used left-over drapery material to make the floral one.

The bike rack is part of a local campaign to embarrass our city and county government into making our streets and sidewalks more wheel friendly.  I’m also on a picture-taking campaign of public safety hazards on public land, planning to e-mail said pictures to those who are wasting taxpayer money on new highway construction and new schools where nobody lives.

Public safety hazards on public land abound in Savannah, where I live, but this appears to be a national problem.  Think of all the wheels that must traverse these areas.  Not only bicycles, but wheelchairs, rolling walkers, shopping carts, delivery carts, skateboards, roller skates, as well as cars and trucks.  In Savannah, tree branches hang in front of traffic lights and street signs.  High curbs, speed bumps, little islands of bushes at eye level prevent drivers from seeing small children and oncoming traffic.

Drainage is another major problem in this backwater burg.  The city and county do not maintain the drainage ditches, such that the mosquito problem is magnified.  When we have heavy rain and high tide together, downtown and midtown Savannah are prone to heavy flooding.

Our city parents (fathers and mothers) solve these problems by purchasing cute but loud little yellow jacket helicopters to dump malathion on the entire coast.  They purchase street signs to tell us the street is closed when flooded.  The helicopters pay special attention to the largest mosquito nest in Georgia and South Carolina that sits on the northern bank of the Savannah River.  This is site of previous Savannah River dredgings.  Our famous Hutchinson Island is an earlier site.  These toxic waste dumps come to us courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers, but the Corps pays Chatham County to control the mosquitoes with malathion.  They do not want to drain it, because it attracts birds, but the birds and racoons are showing dangerous levels of lead and other toxins.

Yet the Corps and the county and the state of Georgia are hot to deepen the Savannah River even more, from 42 to 47 feet, even though nobody knows where they will put the millions of tons of toxic waste accumulated over 250-plus years of industrialization.

This ambitious project to stimulate imports and exports comes at a time when the “global economy” is dying on the vine.  The dollar is strong right now, great for the domestic economy.  Domestic goods are cheaper, labor is cheaper.  Only the bankers, the governments, and Wall Street are suffering, because they are the profit-skimmers who produce nothing of value on their own.

How do I get from bike racks and reusable bags to the global economy?  It’s simple.  Anyone can make them.  No patents or patent attorneys required.  They give solid, dependable returns on time and money investment for years, and cost nothing in taxes.