Facts and Strategy in Recycling Business: Part II

In part 1, we focused on common experiences in curbside recycling of newspapers, plastic jugs, glass bottles, and metals from households.   In each case, labor or machinery is used to separate the mass of materials into commodities, graded to different quality for different end market tolerances.  The commodities are collected, transported and sold around the world.

2.  Differences between E-Scrap recycling and household curbside recycling.

2.1  Labor:   If all the printers, computers, televisions, cell phones etc. came to a Materials Recovery Facility or MRF with the pieces disassembled, you could really run it down the same recycling sorting line that manages the bottles, cans and paper from households.  This highlights the first key difference.  A television weighs about 100 pounds.   It's different than 100 pounds of cereal boxes, magazines, wine bottles, detergent bottles, and olive cans.  Those can be separated by 4 people, spread out on a Mayfran belt.  The TV has to sit in front of one person, who must remove up to 50 metal screws.  Even the raw materials are different - the circuit board is a composite of several different metals and fiberglass, much more complex than a TetraPak composite drink box.  And the glass has steel mask, phosphorous powders, and even lead (pb) vitrified (melted and mixed with) the silica in the glass itself.

The process of putting one TV in front of one person (capable of maneuvering 100 pounds) and disassembling it into 100 pounds of screws, copper, plastic, aluminum, glass, etc. is much slower and much more difficult.   This is the first difference.

2.2  Reuse Sales:   The second is that there's little possibility, effectually zero, that the 100 pounds of commingled curbside material can be reused, fixed, or resold at any value.  But in a wealthy country, people are anxious to buy the newest, flattest appliance.  Putting the old unit into a spare bedroom used to be the way we justified the replacement cost, but that's long exhausted its potential.  It's cheaper now to pay $10 to recycle a TV than to run a $25 classified add to sell the TV for $10.

2.3  Regulation:  While both curbside recycling and electronics recycling beat the pants off of raw material mining when it comes to risks, both have NIMBY forces against them.  The neighbors in the forests complain less.   Since property value drives environmental regulatory enforcement, and recycling tends to be close to people (generators), recycling of either type is more regulated.

But the recycling of electronics, or "e-waste", is far more regulated.

And it occurs to me that I've written about that so much that I'll just end this.  I have more interesting things to say about slums in Ireland.

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