Reframing recycling: Treasure right under our nose

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We have all heard the old saying: One man’s trash is another’s treasure. But have you ever thought that you are hoarding a pile of “treasure” in your kitchen or your garage?
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Most of us see the mounting piles of plastic bottles, cans, glass and other containers building up in our recycling bins as something to be dutifully collected and put out every week or two to be collected by the council. It’s not exactly rubbish but it’s something no longer useful that needs to be gotten rid off.

We know that more than 50% of what we collect for recycling ends up in landfill - and even worse, that a pitifully small amount (less than 2%) will be closed-loop recycled, where a bottle comes back as a bottle, a food container as a food container. What else can we do?  Since China stopped taking our excess recycling landfill sites are overflowing and the oceans are heaving with almost as much plastic as fish. In desperation some recycling collection plants are turning to incineration because we are running out of space.

Without drastic action, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

The tragedy is that the items we effectively treat as trash are, in their pure state, extremely valuable if only we can keep them separate from the start. Current “recycling” systems mean glass bottles of different colours are all mixed together in collection bins. Likewise our “plastics” bins are filled with a variety of PET, HDPE and other plastics. For these products to be closed-loop recycled then they must be separated – the tamper rings and lids have to be removed from the plastic bottles and the different types of plastics separated. (Sadly coloured and clear glass, once mixed in together, cannot be separated which means these items cannot be closed-loop recycled and are destined to become road base etc.)

UK Chief Scientist (DEFRA), Prof Ian Boyd, knows how valuable these products are – in fact he suggests we should bury our recycling and used containers “until we have the innovative technologies to re-use and turn them into something more positively valued”.

But there IS a solution. Lasso is currently developing a prototype for a domestic recycling appliance which will ensure you can never put these valuable materials together and so guaranteeing that everything that is placed in the appliance can be 100% closed-loop recycled. By placing your used containers into the correct bay of the Lasso appliance you will ensure these materials are kept separate and their great value can be realised.

The Lasso washes, grinds the glass, flakes the different plastics (whilst keeping the PET, HDPE etc. separate), and crushes the cans before storing the products for collection every few months. Not only will the resulting plastic flakes, glass granules etc., (known as ReProducts) be 100% pure they will have increased their value enormously and can be sent directly to the (re)manufacturers, bypassing all the complex sorting, transportation and grading processes that are part of the current council run recycling systems.

It’s time we started seeing the used-containers and materials in our recycling bins as the valuable resources they actually are – so long as they are kept separate.

As author Adam Minter, who has travelled the world looking at the way we treat rubbish, says the problem is that, in the Western World we view used-containers in terms of the environment rather than as a resource. We tend to “put recycling into a container and let someone pick it up and you don’t expect to be paid for it”. But the fact is that our trash does contain real treasure.

Far from turning our back on the environment extracting the true value from the content of our bins will mean we can guarantee 100% closed loop recycling of the bottles, tins, food-containers etc. that are placed in the Lasso domestic recycling appliance. That means NONE of these items will end up in landfill or polluting our oceans. And better still, because they will be closed loop recycled, the necessity to keep producing billions more plastic and glass bottles etc. on a daily basis will be vastly reduced.

Philip Sanders

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