Posts Tagged ‘recycling’


It’s hard to calculate the overall effects. I guess on the positive side we can say that we’re consuming less and therefore diminishing less of the planet’s finite resources. On the negative side of the ledger though people lose their jobs and livelihoods, and in addition, as far as recycling goes, more scrap and other junk will go into landfills, putting more pressure on the environment and creating headaches for the next generation. And then of course there are growing question marks hovering over the future of our recycling schemes. China’s recycling industry industry is the one of the linchpins to all the equations as the following NYT articles highlights. But the real question is: what will we learn from it all? Consuming less in future? Creating waste-free cities?

by Dan Levin
The New York Times

Each morning Tian Wengui emerges from the home he makes under a bridge here, two large sacks slung over his shoulder. Through the day, and well into the night, he scours garbage cans for soda bottles, soy sauce containers and cooking oil jugs. Selling the refuse to one of Beijing’s ubiquitous recycling depots, Mr. Tian can earn $3 on a good day. But good days are getting harder to come by.

Since Mr. Tian migrated from Sichuan province, the multibillion-dollar recycling industry has gone into a nosedive because of the global economic crisis and a concomitant fall in commodity prices. Bottles now sell for half of what they did in the summer. “Even trash has become worthless,” Mr. Tian said recently as he made his way to a collection center, his sacks nearly bursting.

The collapse of the recycling business has affected people like Mr. Tian, the middlemen who buy the waste products and the factories that refashion the recyclable waste into products bound for stores and construction sites around the world. American and European waste dealers who sell to China are finding that their shipments are being refused by clients when they arrive in Asia.

The ultimate victim may be the environment, already overrun with enough trash in places to threaten people’s health, now further burdened with refuse that until recently would have been recycled.


Inhabitat had a post today on John Todd’s Living Machines. John Todd (born 1939) is a Buckminster Fuller 2008 Challenge-winning biologist working in the field of ecological design. Todd and colleagues have developed what they call “living machines.” In principle, a living machine is an ecologically engineered technology developed to restore, conserve, or remediate sewage or other polluted water, by replicating and accelerating the natural purification processes of streams, ponds and marshes. In practical application, a living machine is a self-contained treatment system designed to treat a specific waste stream using the principles of ecological engineering. It does this by using diverse communities of bacteria and other microorganisms, algae, plants, trees, snails, fish and other living creatures.

John Todd developed a greenhouse waste treatment plant in Cape Cod that yields clean water from sewage. Bacteria consume the organic sewage and turn ammonia into nitrates. The nitrates are used as food for algae and fertilizer for duckweed. Zooplankton and snails consume the algae. Fish eat the zooplankton. Floating plants soak up the leftovers. Bulrushes, cattails, and hyacinths render the toxins harmless. Trees absorb heavy metals. The byproducts are decorative plants and minnows, both of which are sold. The minnows are sold as bait fish. Aquatic plants, raised in the system’s open-air lagoons for sewer treatment, are used in California, Florida, and Mississippi. Todd’s “living machine” system makes it possible to do all this in the colder northern climates. The town of Harwich, Massachusetts began using Todd’s system in 1990, and they have also popped up at resorts, lake restoration sites, and even at chocolate maker Ethel M’s factory in Nevada.

source: John Todd, Inhabitat

Todae specialises on selling sustainable products, including LED and CF lightglobes, bags made from recycled fruit juice packs, non-toxic cleaning agents, energy-saving devices, greeting cards impregnated with herb or flower seeds, organic skin care products, recycled office equipment, wind turbines, water saving devices, cushions made from seatbelt webbing, and so on – their product range is quite extensive; you can even buy carbon offsets.

Todae is not only an online business but also has shops in Glebe and Bondi Junction.

Another sustainability oriented businesses is aToMik, which has a similarly wide range of products, covering anything from baby rubs to bamboo chopping boards, water-powered clocks and glass bricks containing solar panels.


The Sydney Morning Herald’s front page article features a leaked confidential national audit report, sent to federal and state ministers. It provides clarity in two fronts: that voluntary industry schemes don’t deliver results when the bottom line is affected, and that (therefore) in this case Australia will not meet its target of recycling 65 per cent of consumer packaging by 2010.

The main findings are:

  • we recycle only less than half of our packaging
  • commercial waste companies find it cheaper to dump glass in landfills rather than recycling it
  • just over a third of glass and plastic bottles are recycled

Examples for how the packaging industry distorts recycling figures are: cartel criminal Visy Industries bolstering Australian recycled glass figures by including 70,000 tonnes of New Zealand glass, and Amcor Packaging boosting its numbers by 300,000 tonnes by confusing newspaper and office paper recycling with cardboard and carton packaging.

The audit also raises serious questions about how recycling is measured for the National Packaging Covenant Council, which includes all the big retail and packaging companies, such as Coles, Woolworths, Coca-Cola Amatil and Foster’s.

The official report for 2006 puts the national recycling rate at 56 per cent, but the new adjusted figures put the rate at 48 per cent, with the qualification that confidence even in this figure is low. The audit shows confidence in the figures on recycling is less than one-third of best practice, and the consultants involved in the original report doubt the validity of the new draft report figures.

Take on example: the under-performance of bottle recycling is probably even worse than the above mentioned one third, because this figure does not include South Australia, which recycles more glass and offers a deposit for returning used bottles, and may not include imported wine bottles.

Currently, a government and industry body called the National Packaging Covenant Council manages the environmental effects of packaging. This year, a mid-term review is under way for the National Packaging Covenant, in addition to state and federal ministers meeting next week to discuss recycling rates and the phasing out of plastic shopping bags. And the hypocrite Garrett will be under pressure by environmental groups to support legislation for deposits on glass and plastic bottles.

With the packaging industry of course painting a rosy picture about its ability to achieve the 2010 target, the chances are that the new Labor government will follow the well trodden path by the previous conservative office holders and vote to support the industry rather the planet. Only difference most likely: they’ll have a more clever spin.

Sometimes I really enjoy liberally minded papers, such as the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and The Age in Australia, the New York Times and certainly the Guardian. Only problem: already suffering from information overload, I just don’t do it often enough – which is not totally regrettable because a lot of the material offered is crap; I couldn’t care less whether the Australian TV series ‘Kath and Kym’ is unleashed on the US (where it probably will fail anyway) or whether Mariah Carey surpasses Elvis in record sales. Sometimes though there are gems, like yesterday’s SMH article on a small Australian business called ‘Fully Stoked‘.

fully-stoked-maria-arnold.jpgBehind Fully Stoked is Maria Arnold who worked for many summers in Uganda to help saving chimpanzees, following in a smaller way her hero Jane Goodall (Arnold read Goodall’s books when she was nine years old and she was more than stoked when she was able to play host for her on Goodall’s recent Australian tour). After helping in Africa for a number of years, Arnold decided that there must be a way to better support the work done in Africa, especially after some groups stopped working because of the lack of funds; which is part of the story how Fully Stoked came to life – as an ethical clothing brand that sells online and via wholesalers.

One aspect that makes Fully Stoked stand out from the rest of the rag trade is that its production is 100% sweatshop-free and focused on continually minimising its ecological footprint: from the partial use of organic fibres and natural dyes to solar panels on the roofs of some of its manufacturing facilities and attempts to reduce transport. And they invite you to visit their greenhouse page to find out how you can help supporting their efforts.

The other aspects that makes Fully Stoked so special is that the business gives a whopping 30% of its profits to environmental projects, such as a couple of chimpanzee conservation organisations, Bush Heritage Australia, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Visiting the Fully Stoked website is like entering a sustainability dream. The company works with other businesses who share the same philosophy and who produce either raw materials or make the clothing. American Apparel in Los Angeles for example, which manufactures their standard product line, considers every step of production from a ‘green’ perspective – from recycling over 3 million pounds of fabric scraps annually, to covering the warehouse roof with solar panels, planning to convert more than 80 percent of its cotton consumption to sustainable cotton, diverting all types of possible wastes from landfills (including not just the above mentioned yarn scraps but also paper, plastic, wooden pallets, cardboard tubes and cones, metal, and electronic wastes). State of the art solar panels cover the LA factory roof providing 150 kW of clean, renewable power, which provides around 15% of their overall energy needs.

Another example is the Brazilian manufacturer of their new organic range, a cooperative that invests in local businesses, employs local people and supports small farmers that grow organic cotton, uses very little water to grow the crops, recycles cotton to ensure that no material is wasted, uses natural dyes, does not include in its production bleach or other chemicals that may be harmful for your skin or for the environment, and donates 2% of sales to the “Young Citizens’ City Orchestra”, a project that turns under-privileged children into professional musicians,.

Apart from selling clothing, Fully Stoked also offers books, palm oil free soaps and bags made from rags. Click on any of the images below to read the brief background of the products indicated – whether you’re into sustainability or just interested in the concept, it makes exciting reading.

standard-line.jpg ragbagmenu.gif books.jpg palm-oil-free.gif brazil.jpg


Keagan McCurdy just clued us in on ReMade, a sustainable entrepreneurial project by junior-year Industrial Design students at Western Washington University. ReMade’s objective is to transform industrial refuse into product designs that are marketed and sold through a retail venue.

This year, 12 students individually thought up an innovative and sustainable product and produced 20 of each for sale. The collection includes light switch covers made from old street signs by Jesse Hanson (top left), sushi rollers made from bicycle spokes by Keagan McCurdy (top right), X-acto blade handles made from old toothbrushes by Jason Harrow (bottom left), and fully biodegradable plant pots by Erica Brissenden (bottom right).

This year, Goods for the Planet and the Seattle Art Museum will host these products beginning November 2nd through December 25th, 2007.

Meet the designers @ Goods for the Planet
November 10, 2007 from 5 – 7 PM
525 Dexter Avenue North
Seattle, Washington

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