Greta

I've been trying to actively avoid any purchases with excessive packaging. Or plastic as part of the packaging / actual product.

It's been difficult, but rewarding.

Recycling is only one aspect of a broader movement to change people's behaviour towards consumption. It's the third, and least important in terms of its ecological impact, instruction in "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle".

It should be viewed as an essential phase of the process to mitigate against the consumption which we have not yet found a sustainable way to remove from our eco-system.

Some ways I have tried are remarkably easy.

Thrift stores are a good option for finding everyday items and as long as you have the patience to sift through the random items that you find you will be fine.

I've asked for a ceramic mugs at coffee shops. The server often looks at me like I have two heads when I request it. Lo and behold, they're usually hiding behind the counter. I sit down for 15 minutes and mindfully enjoy the beverage I just purchased, instead of mindlessly chugging it from a take out cup while I'm driving.

The whole thing has been a chance to change, and it wasn't always easy, but it is fun and it has been rewarding.

The amount of waste that could be recycled but isn't in corporate world is staggering to say the least.

Greta

The problem with plastic is that is very cheap to make, recycling it usually costs more hence deposit/collection fees. Plastic is only one commodity though you can get from an electronic device, look at metals and even cardboard the profit margin is greater.

For example does it make sense to I recycle appliances, if it has refrigerant in it , you as the client will be charged to remove it. Many of the service companies that remove the refrigerant will store it, and then sell the refrigerant and all the clean metals seperately.

If it is a computer there are a lot of aspects to recycling. A lot of people ask the question if they will just be refurbished. And they are, all the time.

The first way for these companies to make money is "reuse", if a computer or laptop comes in, they attempt to repair it, and resell it as a refurbished item. Which is also the most sensible when it comes to recycling. It is efficient, fast, and makes the least amount of waste. Moving forward after this point, if the item cannot be repaired they start breaking a computer down to its raw commodities (plastic, metal, silver, gold, and etc) and they work in such a way it's like the stock market, buy low sell high.

Everything is a commodity, and one man's garbage is another man's gold.

Greta

Supermarkets are great places to get them. Having worked at a market in a small town around here, we couldn't get rid of them fast enough.

It saves the store the trouble of having to bale them and such.

If a general floor clerk doesn't have any, check with produce, meat, deli, bakery, any particular department should have tons and tons of the buggers.

Also check with your local fast food restaurants, most have a pretty standard size box for their frozen fries, they hold about 40lbs so they're pretty sturdy and the standard size helps with stacking. I recommend going in, don't call ahead, when they're not busy and just ask them. Most will be happy to give you a bunch.

I have also heard that you should find your local starbucks, and ask what day they get their order. They will have more than enough boxes to give away.

Though I have never tried the last one, though I just might later this year.

Greta

Computers. There are just so many of them that it seems overwhelming at times. So how do we go about recycling them so that in a thousand years the world isn't swimming in old computers? And why don't we do this more often?

For starters, mining is easier than recycling. Recycling requires having more energy than we do materials. Yet this is a one way curve, and recycling will eventually win because the cost for the resources will be higher than those of recycling.

Like with many things the answer is economic, otherwise companies wouldn't be doing it, but how much more efficient is this process? You're still having to burn enough fuel to smelt the metals, then you have to consume enough electricity to allow for the metal transfer plus all of the equipment to use those metals afterward.

But to win back used metals its the same process that is used for a lot of primary silver and gold so there isn't really any new technology here. The process to recover copper and silver from 1980 is almost the same technology used today. The process is the same, but the methods have become more streamlined.

While it may seem strange, these are not the metals that they are trying so hard to recover.

Metals like Cobalt, Magnesium, Copper, Gold, and soon to be Lithium are in a surprisingly limited supply for the purposes of economic mining. Not to mention many of the rare earth metals which are currently vital in things like solar panels, turbines, and medical equipment have been estimated to have less than 50 years of virgin supply.

Basically of all the usages for lithium metal, batteries are a relatively small fraction.

If more car manufacturers adopt lithium batteries a la Tesla, we may see some Lithium shortages in the not so distant future. Lithium prices are low because Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile discovered easily accessible lake deposits, and this is de-incentivising new extraction efforts elsewhere in the world.

Basically, car batteries are an extremely tiny portion of the Lithium market. If they really do catch on as a worldwide replacement for combustion engine transportation, the supply of Lithium will not be able to keep up with demand until adaptation of EVs slows down.

Lithium reserves are deep but not so deep that we can rely on easily obtainable lithium for batteries throughout the century. If we can figure out an efficient way to mine lithium from oceans, then problem solved.

As of today both mining, refining and recycling of metals are energy intensive.

Mining and refining takes more energy because of the transporting and and refining of ore. Scrape material technically takes less energy in regards to transportation because more of the material is the material you that you want than compared to raw ore. The same applies to refining.

So for various aspects of recycling are very economical, it just depends on the resource. Plastic is what is uneconomical due to low petroleum prices.

Greta

Can recycling be bad? It depends on what is being recycled.

Some recycling is bad: in these cases, the cost (in money and/or the environment) is higher than what it saved. Some recycling is good: the cost to recycling is less than what is saved, or in some cases minimal.

Paper recycling, for example, is mostly good. Though it can also be bad, depending on what the plant does with the shreds: instead of providing wood pulp to a paper mill, you provide it with paper pulp: basically the same thing, except you didn't need newly cut trees. There might be a slight environmental cost associated with the process since recycled paper still needs to go through the same bleaching process as virgin pulp. Unless the paper mill is set up to sort through the trash, separate out the paper and shred it the transportation costs and impact make recycling it a loser. It is almost always cheaper and less environmentally costly to truck trees from the forest right to the mill rather than collect paper, truck it to a sorting facility, sort and shred, and then truck it to the paper mill. This assumes the trees are coming from sustainable tree farms, which is usually the case.

Plastics, however, aren't always so good. Some plastics need a lot of chemicals to get them into a state you can use them again; and in some cases, the chemicals required to recycle or the byproducts of recycling them are worse than the costs associated with making new plastic.

This happens when breaking down the plastic into monomers is either a very dirty process or chemically impossible if the polymer has been cross-linked. You can just grind it up and use it as filler, but the applications for that are limited. In the end it usually requires more energy to recycle it than to make it from crude, especially when you factor in transportation.

You'd have to do specific research into any given recycling program to know where on the "good-bad" spectrum any given recycling program is.

Metals are almost always worth recycling.

Aluminum is the absolute best thing to recycle, since it only takes 5% of the energy to recycle a can into a new can versus making a can out of bauxite.

The refining and mining has already been done, just need to melt it and recast. It is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly than making more metal from virgin material.

Greta

Let's say the anode is 1/3 copper, 1/3 silver, and 1/3 gold. The copper will plate out until none of it is on the surface, at which point the silver will start to plate out.

If neither copper or silver are available, the gold will start to plate out.

You wouldn't really end up with a pure copper cathode; you'd end up with something that's mostly copper but with some amount of silver and a (smaller) amount of gold.

With the right setup they can bring a sheet of metal that's 99.99% pure to 99.99995% pure in one go.

Electrorefining is part of many forms of metal recycling.

When you refine metals via electrolysis, there are two reactions to consider.

You have the anode, which you "pull" metal off of; the reaction that occurs here would look something like:

Cu(s) -> Cu2 (aq) 2e-

And the cathode, where metal plates on:

Cu2 (aq) 2e- -> Cu(s)

If your anode is made up of a number of different metals, some metals will be "pulled into" solution more readily than others. These metals are often called ignoble or "less noble". If you consider the electromotive scale, elements with a higher electrode potential are more noble; elements with a lower electrode potential are less noble.

In this case, the anode is made up of gold, silver, and copper. The electrode potentials of these metals differ.

  • The potential of Cu(II) is 0.3419V
  • The potential of Ag(I) is 0.7996V
  • The potential of Au(III) is 1.4980V

As you can see, copper is the least noble element and will be "pulled off" of the anode first. To simplify things, let's assume that all of the copper will enter solution before either silver or gold will.

Now we consider the other half-reaction, where metal plates onto the cathode.

More noble elements preferentially "plate out", leaving the solution and forming a solid on the cathode surface. Recall that we have been putting copper into solution; if this is the only element in solution it will plate out, leaving us with a cathode covered in pure copper.

What happens when we deplete the anode of all copper?

Silver begins to dissolve into solution and plates onto the cathode! Once all of the silver plates out, you're left with nothing but gold.

Of course, it isn't this simple. The gold and silver will form slimes on the anode surface; some will enter solution despite being more noble than copper and therefore plate out before the copper can (resulting in an impure product). Dendrites will form on the cathode surface, causing different voltage potentials in the cell and varying current flows, and (given enough time) will reach from the cathode to the anode.

It's a complicated process.