Waste and Recycling
Approaches Through Technology
By Bill Kuhl
Waste – What are the Issues
• With increasing population and our pre-packaged lifestyle, there is an increasing amount of waste and fewer places to dispose of that waste.
• When not disposed of correctly waste can be hazardous to the environment and our health.
• Progress has been made in recycling many materials which saves room in landfills, causes less pollution, requires less energy, and saves on raw materials.
• New “eco-friendly” materials have been created that do not require petroleum and break down faster in landfills.
• There is much debate on whether we are running out of landfill space, not many people want to live near a landfill and in the past there have been issues of groundwater contamination from landfills.
How Much Waste?
•According to the Environmental Protection Agency the United States produces approximately 220 million tons of garbage each year.
•This averages out to about 4 pounds of garbage for each US citizen each day.
•This is equivalent to burying more than 82,000 football fields six feet deep in compacted garbage.
The Garbage Produced in the United States
Each Year Could Fill a Line of Garbage Trucks
Stretching from the Earth to the Moon
Especially in electronics, technology changes so fast that items often are discarded while still operational just to stay compatible with current technology.
•There are now a billion computers in use worldwide -- over 200 million in the United States.
•In the United States the average life span of a computer is three to five years, 30 million become obsolete each year.
•Many of the computers end up as toxic waste allowed to degrade in landfills.
Monitors, particularly the older cathode ray tube monitors are one of the worst computer components to
put in the landfill. Each one contains 3 to 8 pounds of lead as well as mercury, cadmium, and chromium
which are hazardous to the environment.
Using Technology to Help Manage Waste Issues
These are some of the ways I see the excessive waste problem tackled through technology:
About 95% Less Energy is Needed to Make Aluminum from Recycled Sources than From Raw Materials
Recycling a Single Aluminum Can Saves Enough Energy to:
Run 100 Watt Light Bulb for Almost 4 Hours Power a Television for Almost 3 Hours
More Space Could be Saved in Landfills by Recycling Paper than any Other Material
If Each Person Re-used 1 Grocery Sack for 1 Trip. It Would Save 60,000 Trees
Think of How Many Trees if Everyone used
Re-useable Cloth Grocery Sacks
Plastic Bags made from
Recycled Plastic rather than Raw Material Require 2/3 Less Energy and Over 80% Less Water
Glass Containers Made from Recycled Glass Containers uses About ½ the Energy than Making from Raw Material
Alternatives to Petroleum-based Plastics
Most plastic products are based on plastic that is petroleum-based. In addition to requiring a dwindling resource that
powers most transportation, this type of plastic takes a very long time to break down in landfills. Costs for the eco-friendly materials has been slightly higher but with the increasing cost for petroleum and improvements in
manufacturing technology for alternative materials the cost difference should disappear.
There are plastics known as “bioplastics” that are made from more natural resins
such as corn, wheat, potatoes or algae. For food containers, alternative eco
-friendly materials have been created from raw materials such as wood fiber,
starch, and limestone.
Waste incinerators can reduce the volume of waste by over 80%, pollution issues must be addressed
and the cost is rather high. As a benefit steam heat and electricity can be produced.
The natural process by which microorganisms break complex organic matter into topsoil can occur more quickly
through composting. There must be selection in type and ratio of waste material to maintain a good nitrogen to
carbon ratio. Composting can be done on an individual basis or on a larger scale.