Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Engineering criteria for recycling

From an engineering perspective, here's some questions to ask about before you recycle something;

1. Does it grow on trees or in fields? If "yes", it had better be fairly expensive before one recycles it. (say pieces of a walnut table)

2. Is it a hazardous material?

3. Does it require far less effort to recycle it than it does to make it in the first place?

4. Are the recycled products similar in quality to products made from new materials?

If the answer to #1 is yes, or the answers to 2, 3, and 4 are no, then the question of whether to recycle it or not is primarily an economic issue, not an engineering one. Hence my family is ending all recycling of paper and plastic products until someone convinces me that it makes economic sense. If sometime in the future, someone figures out how to make good plastic products from recycled stock, they will be able to mine dumps to get their raw materials provided by my family.

Until then, it's a highly stable system of carbon sequestration. Everybody wins.


pentamom said...

But paper doesn't grow on trees the way a walnut table does. A walnut table doesn't require nearly the added resources and processes to show up in your living room that a piece of paper needs to show up in your printer tray.

In the end, the analysis might come out the same, but it's not quite as simple as "paper comes from trees so it's infinitely available."

Bike Bubba said...

True; that's where the other factors come in. I've yet to see true post consumer paper come in with the qualities of paper from virgin wood, and the process is fairly strongly subsidized.