Tag Archives: recycling

We Need a Materials Taxonomy to Solve the final steps in the recycling chain | ITworld

Want to be a billionaire and a hero? Solve the final steps in the recycling chain | ITworld.

Want to be a billionaire and a hero? Solve the final steps in the recycling chain

Your challenge: Develop a usable taxonomy of parts and materials so that products can be safely and profitably devolved.

By Tom Henderson  Add a new comment

 

You can buy that cool tablet today, and its useful life is probably three years on the outside. Something new and cool will be available in 2014 (no pre-announcements here, just predictions) and you’ll want to buy it. Perhaps you’ll use a vendor’s trade-in program to do something with the old one — after you’ve conveniently moved the data to your new machine. We hope.

[DEMO 2011: EcoATM recycles gadgets, gives cash | IT recycling charities need your monitors]

There’s a huge opening for someone to get rich, developing a usable taxonomy of parts and materials so that products can be safely and profitably devolved. The way you do it is clear: find a method to describe parts in such a way that they can be taken apart and recycled or safely disposed of. The avalanche of tech products is unlikely to stop, and we expect even less time with them before the new thing arrives to tempt us.

You bought. Someone now has your old machine, with its data removed. What’s done with it is then, is something ranging from devolution to landfill fodder. Inside the derelict are a number of precious metals, and depending on the battery technology, a lump of lithium, nickel, and/or other metals. Many smaller bits inside will become reduced to smaller and smaller bits until they’re either disposed of in a pile (in the ocean, landfill, etc.) or smelted and separated into base elements. It’s an inefficient and labor-intensive process. Plastics can be reused, as well as the stickers and box that an item arrived in.

Lots of derelict products are shipped to SE Asia, where the labor cost of this inefficient process helps compensate by being comparatively low. It also leads to huge piles of ex-computer gear parts that pollute the groundwater in hideous ways. People are poisoned in the scavenging process, not to mention the evil piles of computer dung that are nuclear waste without the isotopes.
What’s needed is a way to mark directly, every part in a machine. Some parts will be more lucratively recycled. Importantly, those parts that are environmentally damaging, or those that require special devolution processes can be aggregated so that they don’t cause interim pollution, and recyclers can benefit from scale of devolution of hazardous materials.

Today, we use primitive marks to denote very basic (typically plastic) product composition. We have hazardous materials markers and identification and other markings to identify objects that can be either recycled or are hazardous/dangerous-to-handle.

My suggestion: use advanced barcodes to identify everything by a recycling mark that can be rapidly identified for devolution. The marking doesn’t have to be on an easily visible area, but it needs to be revealed somehow. The marks can be tiny, almost microscopic, yet recognized by modern bar code scanners. They could identify either specific categories of product materials, or by actual part number.

In the first case, generic markers can identify tens of millions of generic product identifications, making devolution and separation into elements for recycling vastly simpler than it is today. Specific identification then differentiates subsystems and elements that need specific handling requirements, or perhaps have vendor/manufacturer-specific (even mandated) devolution processes (including rewards).

Another reward potential is that most consumer and industrial products could benefit from the same marking scheme that would permit rapid and accurate product devolution. Junkyards across the world are full of unidentifiable bits and pieces of products gone by, ranging from building cranes to old Volkswagens to refrigerators and no one knows what this stuff is. There are various tests for precious metals (often using primitive magnets) and certain plastics, but many materials aren’t easily identified. So they rot, rust, and ooze back into the environment. Materials identification methodologies won’t be tough to deploy, and a government mandate seems unnecessary because the motivation to make money from recycled materials exists now.

If we don’t do this, then the chances of high-efficiency recycling becomes reduced vastly, and piles of useless and hazardous ex-computer junk become taller. Just as every bill of materials includes parts and sources, we could devolve products when their lifecycle is over systematically. What’s needed is an agreement to employ this methodology to the production process: deproduction. The devil of the details will come. Barcodes exist. Now we need a product identification taxonomy, a method to affix material markings, and a database access method that tells the devolvers how to make money.

The afterlife of our electronic waste

CultureLab: The afterlife of our electronic waste.

Is it real or wilful ignorance that permits us to foul our own planet with Styrofoam cups and rusted batteries? Would we curb our wasteful activities if only we knew the error of our ways? Technophiles from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think so, and to equip the public with the knowledge we need to change our behaviour they’ve tagged our technological trash with GPS chips and tracked it across the globe. “Some trash is recycled, some is thrown away, some ends up where it shouldn’t end up,” says Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(In the past, New Scientist teamed up with the Senseable City Lab for a trash-tracking project and competition in which readers followed the trail of their own rubbish.)

The lab’s video project, Backtalk (as in trash that talks back) is currently on display at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art as part of a group show about our communication with technology. In the video, batteries, cell phones and other discarded electronic devices begin as dots in Seattle, which scatter across a map of the US, leaving a web of fluorescent trails in their wake. “In one case we saw printer cartridges go from Seattle, to the east coast, to southern California,” says Assaf Biderman, associate director at the Senseable lab. “To me, that poses a question on the benefit of recycling versus the cost of travel.”

 

Backtalk also includes photos taken from laptops that had been sent to developing countries by laptop-donation programmes in the US. New users of the “discarded” laptops consented to have their photo taken. These tracked devices reveal a life that extends far beyond the original owner’s sight. “If you can get feedback about how the end of life looks for an object, it can help you become more aware so you can rethink your actions, ” Biderman says.

The MIT lab isn’t the first to point out inefficiencies in how the US handles electronic waste, of course. Debates on how to best recycle electronics have been waged since the first televisions broke – and as they continue into the present day, these disagreements expose how complex solutions are. About 53 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2009, according to the technology market research firm, ABI Research. With a dearth of electronic waste recycling plants in the US, many companies export their toxic products to harvesting and smelting operations in Africa and Asia. And what isn’t recycled ends up in landfills, where it poses significant health risks because of leaching lead and other metals. Watchdog groups have sought to improve electronic waste recycling for years, but companies need economic or regulatory incentives to alter their current modes of operation. In Backtalk, Biderman and Ratti reiterate how inefficient the electronic waste recycling system is, and hope their new display of data will encourage people to pause before tossing out a printer cartridge – or better yet, work to fix the system.

“A moral argument is a hard one to make,” says Adam Williams, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is studying recycling markets in China. “Successful recycling systems in China and Brazil happen when people realise they can profit off of trash,” he explains. “‘Save Mother Earth’ fails in terms of creating a system of global responsibility. Recycling needs to put money into someone’s pockets in order to work effectively.”

Yet Biderman maintains people can also be reached by driving home the concept of our interconnectedness. “After the Civil War, people realised there was a benefit to pooling their money to contribute to the common good, so they created the income tax,” he explains. “If we could create an environment where people were aware of the impact of waste or the impact of traffic, by sharing data obtained through sensors, there would be an incentive to participate in order to improve communal spaces.” Backtalk is a proof of concept that a technologically driven bottom-up approach can engage the public, he says. But if getting the message across to the broader public is anything like trying to get through to the to the over-stimulated visitors milling through the MoMA’s buzzing exhibit on communicative technologies, I’m afraid the message may be lost in digital noise.

Essential 'green' metals are being thrown away

Essential ‘green’ metals are being thrown away – environment – 31 May 2011 – New Scientist.

That old cellphone gathering dust in your cupboard could help the economy go green, if only you could get round to recycling it. A UN report published last week says that too many of the rare metals that are essential for green technologies are locked up in old gadgets we throw away or forget about.

The report, from the United Nations Environment Programme, examined the recycling rates of 60 metals. Globally, 34 of them have recycling rates below 1 per cent, while only 18 have rates above 50 per cent. Among the least-recycled metals are tellurium and gallium – which are used in solar cells – and lithium, a key component of the batteries in electric carsMovie Camera – which is also found in cellphone batteries.

These metals are not yet in heavy use, but will be crucial over the next few decades. While we are unlikely to run out of them in the near future, recycling those already in use is less energy-intensive than mining, offering a way to make the green technologies that rely on the metals even greener.

“Most metals can be used over and over again,” says lead author Thomas Graedel of Yale University. But this doesn’t happen, partly because electronic devices are not designed with recycling in mind, and partly because people hang onto their old gadgets for years. This hoarding mentality may be influenced by privacy concerns associated with selling or recycling old electronics that store personal information.

Part of the solution is to collect more metals for recycling, but Graedel says we also need to update our recycling technology. At the moment, about 70 per cent of the metal sent for recycling gets lost during the process.

Garbage to gold: Ways to get value from waste (Images) – CNET News

Anaerobic digester image – Garbage to gold: Ways to get value from waste (Images) – CNET News.

Where there’s waste, there’s energy and materials. The municipality of Lidkoping, Sweden, began construction last year of a biogas and fertilizer plant that will use waste from the local food industry as its main feedstock. The creation of biogas, mostly methane, happens from naturally occurring microorganisms in enclosed tanks. At this facility, which will cost about $12 million, the biogas is cooled and turned into a liquid. Once the plant is completed, operators expect to handle 60,000 metric tons a year of waste and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 14,000 metric tons annually.

Biogas can be made using wastewater, manure from farms, or municipal solid waste. It can be burned on-site for heat or power, or it can treated and put into natural-gas pipelines. Another possibility is using biogas in a fuel cell to make electricity. This fuel cell is being used in California, where Gills Onions is employing farm waste to make electricity. This same technology is also being used at California wastewater facilities because the state has created incentives for clean-energy technologies.

In the U.S., anaerobic digesters are being used in a number of wastewater treatment plants, such as the Deer Island facility in Boston Harbor. The digesters are the egg-shaped vessels on the left, which convert sewage into biogas that’s burned on-site for heat and electricity. The co-generation facility saves the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) $15 million a year in fuel costs. The MWRA has also put up wind turbines and solar panels.

A completely different use for municipal solid waste and forestry residue is ethanol. Montreal-based Enerkem is building two commercial-scale plants to take these organic waste products and turn them into ethanol using a process called gasification. The material is fed into a machine like this one and treated with high heat. That breaks most of the material down into a synthetic gas, which can be converted into different chemicals. In August, the company started construction on a facility to treat municipal solid waste in Edmonton, Alberta.

Ze-Gen is another company using gasification to treat waste to get energy, but it’s going after a more uniform waste stream: construction and demolition debris. The company has operated a demonstration facility in Massachusetts for more than a year and is seeking to scale up with an industrial company looking for a way to handle waste and produce heat and power on-site. Ze-Gen’s gasifier operates at high temperatures, exposing material to heat in a bath of fluid metal.

Another reason to recycle waste is to recuperate valuable materials and prevent runoff into waterways. This machine from Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies is called a fluidized bed reactor and is being used by a few wastewater treatment plants in the U.S. The reactor captures the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, both of which are vital to agriculture. Ostara recuperates the material and sells it as fertilizers to nurseries and specialty agriculture companies.

Composting outside of individual homes or farms got a boost when municipalities started collecting yard waste. Compost is formed by the natural degradation of organic material by microbes. That compost, which looks like black, fluffy dirt, can be added to soil to return nutrients and fertilize plants. Harvest Power is a start-up company targeting organic waste with both large-scale composting, as seen here, and anaerobic digesters, which create biogas in oxygen-starved vessels. Harvest Power’s composting method is designed to work more quickly, cutting composting time from six months for a windrow system to eight weeks.

Waste recycling can be done on-site as well. Vegawatt is a company that’s developed an electricity generator tailored specifically for restaurants. The fuel is fryer grease. Pictured here is George Carey, the owner of Finz Seafood & Grill in Dedham, Mass., who’s standing next to a Vegawatt Power System.

Garbage hauler Waste Management has invested in a number of smaller companies developing different technologies for converting organic waste to compost and energy. One of those is Terrabon, a company spun out of Texas A&M to commercialize a chemical process for converting biomass into a gasoline replacement. The company has a catalytic process for converting waste into different chemicals, including liquid fuels. In its first tests, it used leftover food and paper from cafeteria dumpsters as a feedstock.

Waste Management has also signed a partnership with Genomatica to explore turning municipal waste biomass into chemicals. Genomatica has a process for genetically engineering the e.coli bacteria so that it makes the industrial chemical 1,4-butanediol, or BDO. BDO is used in the manufacture of goods in the auto and apparel industries and is usually made from oil.

Recycling organic material, or biomass, is still not done at the rate of recycling glass, metal, and plastics. In the 1980s and ’90s, many municipalities created recycling programs, leading to the growth of dedicated recycling companies. Here’s a bin of automatically separated plastic packaged up and ready for sale to a plastic mill, which will use it for raw material. Household recycling rates in the U.S. are about 30 percent.

About 60 percent of household goods can be recycled, and another 30 percent is organic waste.

One of the fastest sources of waste in the U.S. is electronic waste. This material can and should be recycled as well. Here’s a photo from an electronics recycling center in Ontario, Canada, which has a series of machines for shredding and separating e-waste. All the incoming material is recuperated, or older machines are refurbished.

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/2300-11128_3-10006741-10.html?tag=mncol#ixzz1EbkhuxLU

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/2300-11128_3-10006741-8.html?tag=mncol#ixzz1EbkCa589

Human excreta may help secure future food security

Human excreta may help secure future food security | Reuters.

LONDON | Mon Nov 29, 2010 5:23pm EST

LONDON (Reuters) – Human excreta could have a key role in securing future food security, helping prevent a sharp drop in yields of crops such as wheat due to a shortage of phosphorus inputs, a UK organic body said on Monday.

“It is estimated that only 10 percent of the three million metric tons of phosphorus excreted by the global human population each year are returned to agricultural soils,” Britain’s largest organic certification body, the Soil Association, said.

An adequate supply of phosphorous is essential for seed formation, root development and maturing of crops.

The supply of phosphorus from mined phosphate rock could peak as soon as 2033 after which it will become increasingly scarce and expensive, the report said.

“We are completely unprepared to deal with the shortage of phosphorus inputs, the drop in production and the hike in food prices that will follow,” the Soil Association said.

Historically in Europe, phosphorus was returned to agricultural land through the application of animal manure and human excreta but from the mid nineteenth century it was replaced by phosphate mined in distant places.

HEAVY METALS

The report called for a change in European Union regulations to permit the use of treated sewage sludge, known as biosolids, on organic certified land, subject to appropriate restrictions on issues such as concentrations of heavy metals.

EU regulations prohibit the use of biosolids on organic land due to concerns about the toxic effects of heavy metals cause by combining human excreta with other waste products such as industrial effluent.

“Heavy metal levels have declined in recent years and are now low enough for the organic movement to re-consider allowing treated sewage sludge to be used where it meets strict standards,” the report said.

The report also called for a reduction of the amount of meat in human diets to reduce demand for mined phosphorus.

“This is because the efficiency with which phosphorus inputs are converted into dietary phosphorus is much higher in vegetable-based products than livestock products,” it said.

(Reporting by Nigel Hunt)