Peak Plastic: The inevitable collapse of the recycling system

Filling that blue barrel is not the good deed you think it is:

Within months, Malaysia, which has a sizable ethnic Chinese population, had replaced China as the world’s largest importer of plastic scrap. But this country, and others across the region, soon saw the waste as an environmental nightmare, and a heavy backlash has begun. With public support, some advocacy groups have urged officials to permanently ban the import of plastic waste.

But at a time when the world is awash in such plastic, some experts worry that this backlash could block the flow of raw material to Southeast Asia’s aboveboard recyclers and manufacturers — and raise the chances that plastic scrap will end up in rivers, oceans, dumps and illegal burn sites.

Just one more area in which the Free Market completely fails to provide sustainable solutions. There used to be hundreds of genuine recycling operations in the U.S. (actually turning the plastic into a reusable product), but there simply wasn't enough money in it. So we collect it, crush it together into handy blocks, and ship it off to some 3rd world country. What will they do with it? Don't care, out of sight, out of mind. But those of us concerned with air quality need to start paying close attention. With the difficulties in handling the volume of scrap plastics, co-generation facilities that burn them are becoming more popular, such as cement industry kilns:

Profiles in idiocy: Why do I have two garbage cans?

Dana Bumgardner wins this week's Cletus award:

"I live in a city that has recycling - what they call a recycling system," Bumgardner said. "We have to have two garbage cans. I really don’t have room for two garbage cans and don’t want two garbage cans. But when I set it on the side of the road, they don’t pick it up and take it with them. They just empty it and put it back."

And before you ask, yes, he really did say that. I've got one word for you, Dana: Bisphenol A. Okay, that's arguably two words. The thing is, when you microwave your Hungry Man meals, that BPA has a tendency to transfer from the plastic over to your genetically-modified fried chicken and laboratory-concocted mashed potatoes, disrupting hormones, and in your case apparently destroying what few active brain cells you have. If you don't recycle that plastic tray it will be put into the ground, where it will continue to leach away BPA, eventually making the microorganisms who try to convert it into useful nutrients just as stupid as you are. You don't want that to happen, do you? I didn't think so.

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