The Best Mining is Worse Than Worst Recycling

Rereading some articles in The Atlantic by Adam Minter (whose ShanghaiScrap blog is down for maintenance, see opinion pages at Bloomberg), and I was stunned by the negative comments about recycling by "trolls" in the follow up.

There's an overwhelming bias, not just about Asian and African recyclers, but an undercurrent of distrust of American recyclers as well.   If an American recycler sells bales of copper wire to China, and if the Chinese are making Christmas lights into slippers (from the insulation) and electric-grade copper, it must be wrong.   People comment, knowingly, that it must waste energy (shipping Christmas lights all the way to China), or that the toxics released (by older insulation) make it a better idea to landfill them.  Or that the Chinese are taking shortcuts to take the Christmas-tree-light-recycling-jobs away from Americans.

The trollish comments on mainstream articles about recycling are missing the point of recycling.

The world is consuming raw materials.

Raw materials come from one of two places:  from waste or from the earth.

Recycling is not a form of "waste disposal", it is a form of urban mining.

Anti-recycling trolls, take notice.

The way Chinese recycle copper is better than the way we recycle copper.  Why?  Because we mix coppers together at our secondary smelters.  They preserve all the extra energy and chemical refining to keep the highest grade of copper from being remixed, and then re-re-refined.  The amount of pollution avoided from mining and refining virgin copper is astronomical.  ASTRONOMICAL.

Copper mining is the #3 source of mercury in the USA after silver mining and gold mining.  The rocks don't come sorted by "gold only" rocks, when you break them apart and soak them in cyanide, lead and mercury and other stuff comes out.

What the environmental community needs really bad is a voice of reason.  We need someone like Eric Friedman or Colin Powell, someone with gravitas, to get our movement to look at the simple mathematics and pull a few racist heads out of a few asses.  It needs to be someone agreeable, and diplomatic, who still captures the passion of doing the right thing, the best thing, when it comes to raw materials.


Lifecycle analysis, people.  C'mon.  BASICS...Recycling is good and don't get distracted by the fact that saving energy means recycling is cheaper than virgin ore extraction.  Don't get distracted by poorly researched social "gotcha" messages.  Recycling is good.   Except for mercury recycling, that's bad... but it's bad because there's really no more mercury being mined, its' all surplus.  If we still had mercury mines, it would make sense to recycle mercury.  (Mercury is mainly provided by capturing effluent from gold mines, see above).

We do need to reform recycling for one reason.  If we don't make recycling as good as it can be, people will assume they should not participate in recycling programs.  When a recycling truck drives by a house which is not separating its recyclables, we lose both the energy to drive the truck, but far more so, the energy to send huge tractors into the forests and coral reefs to get new timber and ore from rare earth habitats.  If you don't recycle, you are killing the planet a little more swiftly.

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