(12v) Take responsibility for your waste - don't dump it

New international rules are signed to prevent that countries dump their waste in other countries, unless those countries agree. These rules will force countries to produce less waste and to develop better recyclable products or to develop methods to be able to recycle difficult recyclable products.

Good. Exporting (plastic) waste from developed to developing countries will become more difficult as developing countries now have to agree to accept waste. China already refused to accept more foreign waste, now also Malaysia will refuse more foreign waste and even intends to send back the waste we already dumped there. Indeed, ones countries develop beyond a certain level they refuse waste from others and instead may even start to export their own waste. And the hypocrisy of certain Western countries: we condemn other often much less developed countries when they dump or burn waste but when recyclables can no longer be exported to poor countries we destroy much of our own recyclable waste instead of recycling it, and thus pollute our own but also the world's air. Therefore, I think Canada's decision to ban single-use plastics from 2021 onward is a good decision as people can buy e.g. pizzas at a local restaurant while it forces companies that want to sell pizzas in supermarkets to develop better packaging. Indeed, no rules and nothing changes. 

Of course, under these new rules, (under)developed countries with corrupt regimes may still accept waste to dump among their citizens in case it enriches the few in power. However, other developing countries with correct governments will refuse unless they develop a recycling industry. But also the public in developed countries will no longer accept that their own country export waste to poorly developed countries; partly because they are against the exploitation of poor countries but also because they don't want that their holiday is spoiled with the view of waste.

Why waste can help societies to progress

The advantages if (plastic) waste remains in developed countries: as it is a nuisance, it will stimulate countries and their industries to either develop other plastics/materials that are better recyclable or develop techniques that allow to recycle difficult recyclable plastics/materials. A third result of increased costs when waste can no longer be dumped will be less packaging unless it's necessary. And thus, the amount of waste in oceans and on land but also the burning of it will go down which is good for our own health and that of the planet. I acknowledge that, even when developed countries keep their own waste, people in developing countries can still decide to dumb (their own) waste in their environment and thus decide not to recycle; then other countries may decide not to trade with those countries to force them to stop dumping their waste while other countries may use techniques to take waste out the environment such as remove plastics from oceans to reuse them or burn them in a clean way and use the energy they produce.

Indeed, everyone should take responsibility for their own waste, either because countries and companies reduce what can become (expensive) waste and by storing or recycling waste locally or countries pay other countries so they accept other country's waste to store or recycle; still, mostly waste cost money unless a recycling industry is setup. But, countries should not export to countries that accept waste to dump it. And I accept, energy can be produced from burning bio gases we capture from the metabolism of organic materials such as food by microorganisms; this gas will be produced, whether we capture it or not. Also certain waste that can't be recycled can be burned but only on condition the produced gases are filtered as much as possible to remove any poisonous molecules; if this filtering is not possible than the material may be stored until we finally get better methods to recycle or burn it.

A few examples: mushrooms, eggs and flower pots

An example from reality: mushrooms are sold in blue plastic boxes. As the whole sector uses these packaging, why can't people take the empty boxes back to any shop so they can be reused or, in case they are damaged, destroyed. Manufacturers may even develop material that is better recyclable, even when it is damaged. BTW, it seems mushrooms can also be used to make biodegradable packaging.

Another example are eggs. When I was young, the packaging that contained eggs were refilled and thus reused, recycled. But at a certain moment, I'm not sure why but people had to throw them away as they were no longer refilled.

Also flower pots are mostly similar and thus it should be possible to return them to shops so growers can reuse them, resulting in a reduction of quite some waste. It may also be possible to use biodegradable pots so plants are planted while still in their pot. Maybe packaging made from mushrooms may be a solution.

Examples of materials that are easily recyclable as they only need to be refilled.

Recycling charge

In order to stimulate more people return used packaging, shops could charge e.g. 50c for mushroom and egg packaging or even metal cans, a charge customers recover when they return the packaging. Shops may also decide to have their logo on certain packaging and only retake their own packaging to refill with their own packaging-specific products. I accept it is not possible that all packaging is returned to shops (e.g. large and heavy packaging) and thus shops shouldn't be allowed to charge customers for packaging they don't retake. This charge should encourage people to return and thus reduce waste and not to enrich companies while companies that are bad in the use of recyclable materials may even be penalised by paying extra cost to compensate society for the removal of waste companies refuse to retake.

Indeed, a system should continue to exist that allows the collection of packaging that can be recycled but not returned to shops; the cost of bags or boxes can finance their collection. And a general tax that everyone must pay can contribute towards the cost of cleaning streets but also for the collection of non-recyclable waste on top of more expensive bags or boxes in which the waste is collected to encourage less products packed in non recyclable waste are bought. And of course, heavy fines (in percentage of what people earn) for people who are caught throwing rubbish in the environment will reduce the numbers of people who throw away rubbish. 

Examples of product-specific packaging that should be easily recyclable by the company and refilled after cleaning the packaging.

How can this 50c (or other charge depending the product) charge work to the advantage of everyone involved except those who don't want to collaborate? I think manufacturers charge the cost of the recyclable packaging to shops while shops charge customers the same charge when they buy a product. The extra cost should be clearly added on the ticket so people know they're charged extra and how much to expect when they return the packaging. This way, people can bring the used packaging back to a shop and get their refund while shops receive a refund from the manufacturers when they return the packaging. Thus, customers pay an extra cost on top of the value of the product but one that can be reclaimed. Of course, when damaged packaging is returned only a fraction of the charge is repaid and only when the manufacturer is able to reuse the material of the packaging as it becomes more expensive to handle this packaging; this will also encourage customers to take care of reusable packaging. However, in case of metal cans such as those for drinks, the customers should get their charge back, even when manufacturers need to remake the cans as this is still cheaper than when they must first buy new metal.

Some shops may decide not to retake packaging of products that other shops accept and manufacturers retake. Then and to prevent that shops not participating in recycling gain compared with those that do an effort to reduce waste, these shops should still pay the charge to manufacturers and still mention the charge on the ticket but repay this charge immediately to customers so shops not involved in the recycling system have an extra cost as manufacturers charge shops for this packaging while customers don't pay the charge. Customers of course can return this packaging to other shops and receive a refund while those shops receive a refund of the manufacturers and thus it isn't an extra cost for those shops. Thus, the only losers are shops not involved in taking back recyclable packaging.

An example of waste that companies should be able to reuse, or at least a plastic should be used that can be used to make other plastic material such as a water collector under plants or companies should use material that are biodegradable although it should be sufficient strong to be used at least ones with hot water.

This way and in case shops accept to refund returned packaging, when customers don't return the packaging, customers paid shops and thus the cost is for the customers. In case shops don't return used packaging to the manufacturers, the latter received a charge from the shops and thus only shops loose when by law shops can't charge customers when shops decide not to accept packaging and customers even gain as customers can go to another shop that refunds the return of packaging while those shops get a refund of the manufacturer and thus don't loose.

Finally, when people throw away packaging (for which they should be fined if caught), than children, homeless people or anyone else can collect them and return them to shops that accept packaging that must pay ("refund") these "customers". The "customers" gain because they didn't pay for the packaging while the shop receives money from the manufacturers when they return the packaging (or product) and thus it is not a cost for shops. In order to prevent manufacturers earn money from packaging that is unlikely to return, it should not be possible they add a recycling charge to all their products; indeed, manufacturers will be responsible for the products they retake and each product they charge an extra cost must be retaken so it is not a cost for shops or customers. Shops or customers only loose when they don't receive a refund because they didn't return the packaging. Manufacturers and shops may of course actively search for waste that customers don't return as that is gain for the shops or manufacturers as they don't need to refund anyone.

Other examples of things that can be recycled to reuse without even the necessity to change them:
  • Some small buckets that are used to sell sweets for dogs. As these can be shop and product specific, only the concerned shops need to retake them;
  • Flower pots can be returned to flower shops that can reuse them. Of course, customers may decide to use then to replant plants. It may also be possible biodegradable pots are used although they should not be from plastics as that remains present in nature.
  • Certain coffee shops give a reduction when customers bring their own coffee cups while at least one company seems to use biodegradable coffee cups with seeds embedded so trees can grow when cups are thrown away.

And, already versions of this system exist: recycling charge on electrical equipment, return of empty beer bottles. But, I think this can be extended to above-mentioned products and others such as tins.

Reducing waste is possible, Ljubljana as an example

Ljubljana shows almost zero waste can be done if only people are in power who believe it is possible and convince others it can be done. Renewables and recycling are future industries. Instead of exporting our money to (often corrupt) regimes to buy oil and gas, then burn it and pay developing countries to buy their right to air pollution and pay them to accept our waste (although this way some of our wealth helped to develop countries), we can use sun, wind and water to produce energy while recycle as much of our waste as possible so we no longer need to import minerals from other countries but instead they can use their minerals for their own development. Recycling also means the use of rainwater to flush toilets or clean streets. Produce and recycle locally and local people have work but also products. Produce and dump elsewhere and people become angry.

Thus, Ljubljana seems to be an example of a place where much is recycled because of a good collection system. Items such as milk and juice packaging are used to produce toilet rolls. Energy is produced from burning natural gas that is produced by degrading biological waste. Old dumps can be reopened to sanitize them, thus clean the ground and water while certain materials in those dumps may be recycled.

Thus in summary, the amount of waste can be reduced when:

- packaging is clever designed so it sticks to the essential and thus as little as possible:

- waste is collected to reuse as it is such as the packaging for mushrooms or beer bottles,

- waste is changed into something similar such as metal tins that are melted to make new tins or is changed into something different when e.g. plastics are used to create other plastic items,

-  biodegradable "plastics" (some made from mushrooms) are used for short time and single use such as straws or plastics that contain products such as coffee and are intended to use only ones in an espresso machine.

And, when there is a will and the conviction something is possible, than much can be achieved just as the city Ljubljana shows. 

Pictograms and symbols

I'm also in favour of the use of symbols to help customers recycle. As I'm in favour, I also try to find the best symbols that explain much without the necessity of additional exploratory text. I also think this is best harmonized so products can have the same symbols that are understood in many countries. Of course, certain areas may not recycle certain products and thus locally certain symbols may or may not be possible; a land code could inform in which countries certain packaging can be recycled while in other places people may start to demand that kind of packaging is also recycled in their region. However, more on this in a future post.


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