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Recycling Waste Products into Valuable Materials – Part 2

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Metal and electrical components

Following on from the first instalment of turning one person’s waste into another person’s treasure, we examine a new range of products that are capable of practically being converted into new products, in addition to ways we can improve recycling rates.

Whilst not all of the products discussed below can be practically recycled and/or reused, other reasons for their safe disposal are subsquently recognised.

E-Waste

This is gained a lot of attention in recent years, especially with claims most E-waste is dumped in developing regions such as Africa.

One of the key reasons for dumping the e-waste into developing regions is chiefly due to labour costs of dismantling electronic devices; relatively-high minimum wages through much of the developed world render this process economically unfeasible there.

One proposed solution to help fund the ‘proper’ (ecologically sustainable) way of  managing these electronics is called extended producer responsibility (EPR). This is an environmental policy that places a greater onus on manuacturers to deal with the post-consumer electrical goods and their accessories. Places that lack EPR legislation then place a burden on local municipalities to deal with mounting quantities of e-waste.

Results from a Swiss case study indicated the vast majority of e-waste is recycled, with a small remainder destined for landfill. One key conclusion from this was that there is still a lack of incentive for electronic-goods’ product designers to produce more eco-friendly models.

Medicines

Whilst considered harmless, disposing of medicines (especially of liquid chemicals down the drain) can be quite problematic. One particular issue is having traces of drugs being found in waterways and ground water.

Fortunately, there are many places that offer designated medicine drop-off points. For example, some cities provide containers that are accept used medication for safe disposal. Another common option is to leave old pharmaceuticals at a pharmacy for subsequent safe disposal.

Used medicine collection bin, Milan, Italy
Used medicine collection bin, Milan, Italy

Food scraps

Whilst it is readily biodegradable (generally speaking), that fact that it consists of approximately half of the total contents of domestic garbage is a concern. Whilst it isn’t a waste product (strictly speaking), this information is alarming. Considering the vast amounts of water and fertiliser required for the production of fresh produce, this is an exorbitant waste of resources that could otherwise improve a soil’s productivity (especially for agriculture).

To overcome this, some major jurisdictions, such as California, are seeking to gradually roll out a comprehensive food waste (organic) recycling scheme to supplement their existing waste management program.

Where possibile, the most traditional way still remains one of the best ways of dealing with food waste: backyard composting. Due to the vast number of people living in apartments and other forms of compact dwellings, this is becoming less practical. However, for the more eco-enthusiastic individuals, there might be a possibility to try trench composting.

Car batteries

Unlike standard batteries for portable consumer goods, these batteries are generally best to return to retailers, as specified within this piece provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Fortunately, over 96% of car batteries are recycled, in part due to legislation throughout certain U.S. states that render car battery recycling mandatory.

Whilst these are just a small number of products that should be properly recycled/disposed of, in the past two articles, there are many others that deserve a mention here. Ultimately, any product that is created should be created in a manner that can be recycled and/or reused. Where practical, consumers should make a conscious decision to purchase such items.

Featured image source: GraphicStock

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