How to Design
Total Recycling Systems
By Daniel Knapp, Ph.D.
& Mary Lou Van Deventer
Total recycling is a big vision - it means not wasting anything. It means a technological, economic, and cultural system built for convenient, effective reuse and recycling of anything we can no longer use. It means wasting and attitudes that permit waste are unacceptable. It has been considered presumptuous even to think of such a thing - until now. Now it is necessary.
But in a world of sound bites and attention spans shortened by television, big visions must be reduced to microbits to be seen at all. Which is okay, so long as the microbits expand on command. These principles are presented as microbits that could be expanded into a huge industry called total recycling.
- Waste isn't waste until it's wasted. Conventional disposal systems waste resources by mixing unlike things together, often in the name of efficiency. The first step in avoiding waste is avoiding mixing.
- Recyclers handle discards, not wastes. Discards can be recycled or wasted. We will always have discards, but we can deny the people the option to waste them.
- Recycling upgrades discards to resources instead of downgrading them to garbage. Garbage represents a design failure in the disposal system. Recyclers sometimes waste things, but their ultimate goal is to waste nothing.
- Recycling manages the supply of discards, not the "solid waste stream." The term "waste management" should be reserved for the garbage disposal industry.
- Recycling is a form of disposal. Disposal by recycling is not destruction; it is orderly placement. Auction houses also dispose of things, as do estate sales. Only the garbage system disposes of things by destroying their value.
- Disposal fees can power recycling disposal just as they do garbage disposal. There are fees for disposal services rendered. Recyclers must be allowed and encouraged to compete with garbage interests for disposal fees. This will unlock the potential for recycling businesses to handle vast quantities of material and eventually to replace the garbage system.
- All of what now becomes garbage can be sorted into twelve master caegories of recyclable materials.
- A discard management system in which recycling is the preferred disposal technology must begin with a discard composition study. Such a study analyzes today's discards to establish the proportion and volume of each of the twelve master categories of recyclables. Observational studies that sort and weigh are preferable to desktop studies that import data from other localities or use other esoteric methodologies.
- Each locality should do its own composition study, and results should be made public.
- A comprehensive recycling system provides opportunities to recycle all twelve of the master discard categories. Recycling systems should not be called comprehensive until all twelve master categories are provided for.
- Using the twelve master categories provides a way to estimate progress towards the goal of total recycling. The steps are: (A) estimate the amount of each master category within the total supply of discards; (B) estimate the amount of being recycled within each master category; (C) add the discards wasted to the discards recycled; and (D) divide the discards recycled by the total discards. The resulting percentage will be the recycling rate.
- Our culture will move toward total recycling in incremental steps, not all at once.
- Banning and precycling (source reduction) are valid and useful tools for achieving the goal of total recycling. Some things will never be recyclable.
- All closed landfills should be evaluated for their suitability as sites for comprehensive recycling transfer stations. This is the largest single option for increasing discard disposal capacity for any community. It will also immediately reduce pressure on remaining landfill capacity.
- Systematic research should be conducted on the feasibility of mining old landfills to recover some resources, but more important, fill space.