Recycling is one of those seemingly simple things, that becomes complex once you start to think about it. Sure, an aluminum can can be made into another aluminum can, but how does it actually happen? How does the can get sorted from all the other waste in the recycling bin, and find its way to a can-rebirth facility?
Recycling is also one of those things that it is pretty easy to dismiss or be cynical about. I remember hearing how, back in the 1990's, the citizens of New York City were fined for not sorting recyclables out of their trash. That seems fairly admirable, except that it later turned out (in a big scandal) that the so-called recyclables were just being dumped in the landfill. (I can't find a citation for this right now, but I'll keep looking.) New Yorkers were not surprised by this duplicity and corruption. After all, the Mafia had controlled waste removal since the 1950's.
My intern and I had been talking about how recycling programs vary in different parts of the United States. I used to say that when I freelanced all over the country that my questions upon arriving at a new place were
- Can you turn right on red?
- Can you buy beer on Sunday?
- And, what's the story with recycling?
But how does it all work?
Robb found the following videos, which show -- in a geeky but fascinating manner -- just how all that recyclable waste gets sorted. I was struck by
- how energy intensive this process is
- how much they still rely on humans
- how expensive it must be to deal with all this waste
- what a gigantic amount of trash was being recycled