Tag Archives: technology

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.

Rosaliene? Cosmic Balm?

iguazu0295

Iguazu Falls, Argentina, kco0295

Rosaliene Bacchus (rosalienebacchus.wordpress.com) is one of my favorite Double X Avengers in the blog world.  The Double X Avengers are those gifted with the most chromosomes, the most genes, the most sense, cents, and thus the most likely to survive in the future “Survival of the Fittest” paradigm.

In 1995, long before I met Rosaliene in cyberspace, I traveled to Argentina and Chile and took this photo at Iguazu Falls, Argentina.  It does not show the violent food poisoning I got at the fancy dancy hotel, probably from unwashed lettuce.  Shame on me for eating uncooked food.  Should you desire to live among those with Survival Skills Technology, do not eat uncooked food at the Olympics.  Take your own food to Iguazu Falls.

Having said that, I offer another “Lesson in Living from the Double X Gene Pool.”

musleebaker0306

My all-time favorite instrumental, “Moonlight and Magnolias,” reminds me of Savannah. It is cut #12 on this CD.

Here at home, music is cosmic balm for me.  I first heard “Moonlight and Magnolias” on a jazz radio station broadcasting from Charleston (that’s the one in South Carolina, for those who don’t know, where the War of Yankee Aggression began).

The 20th century radio station went off the air before I learned the artists’ or CD name.  I searched high and low, finally finding it two years later at the “listen-stations” Barnes and Noble used to have but can no longer afford.  I ordered the CD.  Kinky.  “Moonlight and Magnolias” is not typical, and it shows what the group can do.

As you may know, everything is free in the Cosmic Commune, and money doesn’t exist.  Therefore, we spend our free time having fun.  Having fun includes swimming at Iguazu Falls after we clean up the water, and dancing to good music.  These are the two best exercises known, except for the third one, and they are free, as well.

Having said that, I add that when you’re tired of swimming and dancing, you may want to sit down and knit some socks, for fun and profit.  The Cosmic Improv Group, deprived of their own  opposable thumbs, likes to give me advice on how to do a more efficient job.

Cosmic Improv Group, Chapter 4:  “The Knitting Dimension ensnares katharineotto.planetearth.ind in Earth Plane Reality”

By katharineotto.wordpress.com, an alter ego of katharineotto.planetearth.ind, representing unlicenced freedom to be who I am.  080116

 

socksfirst0105

The first socks I ever knitted. kco0105

January, 2005

The Cosmic Improv Group helps me knit, in its way.  Its unique way, should I choose to see it their way.  I’m to “attitude-adjust” as necessary to get what I want.

I finished knitting my first pair of socks, but the CIG–that contingent of advisors who haunt my imagination and worst nightmares–made it as hard as possible.  I was counting stitches to decrease, to shape the second toe, trying to figure out what the directions were saying, and having trouble reading the small gray print on the back of the yarn label, when the phone rang, startling me and making me lose count, my place in the directions, and my composure.  The caller hung up in the middle of the answering machine message, or so I thought.  But the fax machine made noises as if to receive a fax, and then it quit.

I figured it was Capital One trying to fax the bill I never received and requested two days ago.  Capital One can’t just send a fax then and there.  No.  It has to be processed through another office in another city, so I was told the fax would come before 5 p.m. on the following day, which was yesterday.  So I was awaiting this fax, which did not come through.  My mind runs through a list of worst-case scenarios, primarily that the impatient fax sender lost her job and hung up before recognizing the phone could take faxes.  I would have to call again.  Maybe the fax was out of paper or malfunctioning.  This is the story of my life.

Meanwhile, I hear the Cosmic Improv Group gossiping about me.  Fukyoo leads the band.  “See how easy she is to provoke?” he quips.    “It’s only a fax.  Let’s see if we can make her make a mistake on her sock, so that it’s not just like the other one, and she will have to live with the imperfection forever.”

“Okay,” say the others.  “That sounds like fun.”

“Oh no you don’t,” I respond in my mind, not mad enough yet to say it out loud.  I go back to work.  The phone rings and hangs up again at the same place.  The fax starts and stops.  This happens a third time, and I pick up the phone but only hear fax tones.  I hang up.  I check the fax for paper, and it seems to be okay.  I rail against these angels, who, I decided, have caused my machine to malfunction.  I worry that the overworked, underpaid, stressed out sender at Capital One will give up and I’ll have to call again on Monday.  I change the fax machine to fax only mode so the answering machine will not pick up.

I hear Fukyoo and the others chittering in the background.  “Let’s make her lose her knitting needle.  That worked yesterday.”

Yes, it did.  I took my finished and unfinished socks to a meeting, but when I got home, my fifth double pointed needle was nowhere to be found.  Never mind that I was only using four needles.  I had bought five needles, and my sense of order dictated (yes—dictated) that I should be able to account for all five of them.  I searched high and low and finally decided it fell out of my bag at the meeting.

I had been losing and finding these needles since starting the socks.  Usually they fall in the crack between seat and arm in the recliner, but my cat was sleeping there and I didn’t want to disturb him.  I felt around the sides, to no avail.  When Bud finally moved, I found the needle in the crack behind him, but by then I had been fifth-needle-less for over two hours.  I had gone through a temper tantrum with a good yell or two at the sprites who plague me with their games.

So, I’m still concerned about the fax Friday morning, the toe of my sock is begging to be finished, my feet are cold, and I sit down to refocus on the project.

But I can’t find my fourth needle.  Yes, I know I have a fifth needle, but that’s not the point.  (Pun.  Ha, ha.  Get it?)

“Where should we hide her needle this time?” say the sprightly spirits.

“I know.  Let’s hide it in her hand.  She’s so upset now that she has forgotten how to count to four.”

Yes, the needle was in my hand, but then I couldn’t find the pattern, and when I found that, I was so insecure, that I plodded super attentively though the last few steps.  And a perfect sock I have.  And the fax finally came through.  Twice.

It probably helped that I’d let loose with a belly buster of a temper tantrum at the Fukyoo crowd, at the top of my lungs, somewhere in the middle of this emotional intensity.  “No, you can’t make it easy,” I screamed.  “You have to make it hard.  Why can’t you people get lives of your own so you won’t have to mess with mine?  Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“But you’re so much fun,” they say.  “We enjoy playing with you.”

“Mere flattery,” I say.  “If you think my ego needs sycophants like you, you are wrong-O.  If you really want to have a good time, you’ll do things to inspire rather than infuriate me.”

“She’s hearing voices again,” they tell each other.  “Voices inside her head.”

“Yes, and she’s talking back to them.”

“You know what that means.”  They all look at each other with great concern.

“Maybe we should back off.  She might really crack under the pressure.”

“She cracked a long time ago, if you ask me.”

“Don’t tell her that.  It will only upset her.”

“Good thing she has no neighbors.  If anyone heard her scream the way she does, they would surely have her committed.”

“At least she doesn’t scream or talk to those voices in public.”

“Not yet, but we’re working on it.”

monkeybali0696

How America looks from Bali, 1996

 

 

Making Waste

bkspackardwaste1963ghbath1015bkspackbackwaste1963

April, 2016

It occurred to me yesterday that money hoarding and information hoarding go together.  Information hoarding is most obvious in the patent industry.  This translates into mass confusion at the grassroots level, where multiple companies compete on the same turf for “market share.”

faucetplastic0316My new bathroom faucet provides the most recent example of this dysfunctionality.  Home Depot supplies only one brand of faucet, and the bottom of the line (read “simplest”) faucet only comes in one color, an off-color, “polished nickel,” so doesn’t match my formerly standard chrome.  In the 20 years since I bought the old faucet, the metal to plastic ratio has declined maybe 50%.  The drain pipe, pivot nut, and strap are now plastic.  I only needed the new faucet because the plastic gears inside both handles on the old one broke.

Plastic gears, plastic joints, and plastic moving parts have replaced metal in an across-the-board move that creates enormous waste and is dangerous, to boot.  I’m thinking of the aluminum lawn chair that snapped without warning because of the plastic joints.  Plastic, unlike metal or wood, is unfixable, so the entire product must be discarded.

Back to the faucet:  I considered substituting the old metal drain pipe for the new plastic one, but found that male and female ends had been reversed.

Why?  I have to wonder if patents have replaced standardized parts in our universalized conveniences.

Who benefits from this subtle downgrading of standard household equipment?  Certainly not the homeowner, who has not only the expense but the inconvenience of replacing equipment that should have lasted much longer.  Faucets installed all over town in the early 1900s are still functional.   While somewhat corroded and rusty on the outside, they still work as well as ever.

This isolated example would be a minor problem, except that every new replacement product I buy is worse than the old one.  Why did I even have to buy a new one?

“We can’t get parts,” is the standard answer.  When I suggest that digital controls on everything from my propane gas stove, dryer, and tankless water heater, to microwave–and even coffee percolator–add unnecessary levels of complexity and increase electrical and repair costs, people look at me as though I’m the crazy one.

stovefrigidairedig0416Why, in an age when we claim to want to reduce energy waste, are we being maneuvered into untenable situations like this?  My desire to free myself from the grid and Southern Company’s monopoly is blocked at every turn by corporate desperation to keep me hooked into a system that bleeds individuals like me dry.

And they wonder why the economy is imploding?

*The Waste Makers, by Vance Packard, (1963) which I read in the 1970s, made a profound and enduring impression.  I skimmed through it while writing this blog and see that Packard’s observations are even more apparent today.  It should be required reading in every high school.

**Total cost of replacing the Frigidaire stove’s digital control panel was $115. (The replacement part was $82).

 

Bicycles and Public Domain Technology

bikerackfishcamp0715

Courtesy of Libby Belle
an alter ego of katharineotto.wordpress.com
January, 2016

Ride free as the breeze,
If you please,
Escape noise, fumes,
Death and taxes,

Proving scientist Ben Franklin wrong.
bikebd1007

Ben didn’t believe in patents,
But Tom Edison did,
And look where it got him.

Incandescent light bulbs,
Where did they go?
Outlawed by Congress,
Awhile ago.

bikelite1007

What does Tom think of that?
His best idea, going flat?
Mad as hell, and that’s that.
He wants revenge so tips his hat
To his mentor Ben, the diplomat.

Tom and Ben plot a course
For the power of the horse.
Abandon patents, they decide.
Make the product, then let it ride.
If folks like it, they’ll copy you,
But you’ll have the first, so
they can’t sue.

GE Corporate trembles and quakes,
“What?! No patents? These are high stakes.”

Libby Belle shakes a feather.

“A lass and a lack, we’ve changed the weather.
The sun has come out, while you were in boxes.
The sky has cleared,artfolkbiketurt0715
The grid disappeared.

Direct current from sun to you,
This is all you need to do
Tom has shared his tale of woe,
Says DC is about to show.
Let the sun be your source,

And Wall Street turns to Trojan Horse.”

Photos, top to bottom:  1.  Tybee Island Fish Camp, Tybee Island, GA.  This restaurant’s entire railing is a bike rack.  Tybee is great for biking.  2.  Bike rack at Brighter Day Natural Foods Market, Savannah, GA.  3.  The city of Savannah’s version of bicycle parking.  4.  Folk art at Gallery By the Sea, Tybee Island, GA.