Julie Nawfal

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How can we improve plastic recycling ?

Hi everyone!
I am student in plastics engineering and am interested in plastics recycling.
As you probably know, the most popular drawback of plastic is that it’s very polluting. The problem is that so much people just throw up plastics scraps into nature, or put it in the ordinary bin, whereas plastic can be recycled. Nowadays, plastic recycling has been well improved and we should continue on that way.
So, I’m looking for ideas which could be developed to encourage people to sort plastic to recycle them in the most optimum way.
Thank you in advance for your responses.

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    Dec 17 2013: I assume you have listened to this talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_biddle.html ?

    One of the most difficult things is to get people to understand their impact on the environment and give them the ability to make real changes. It's not enough to educate them on the problem - you need to give them a solution that they can easily take part in. I recycle simply because I have a blue recycling bin and a gray trash bin. It's easy for me to do. When I was in NYC, that wasn't the case so I didn't recycle nearly as much. Occasionally my landlord would put out a separate bin out and we would all dump our recycling in there so fast.

    There is only so much the public can do to make changes like these. The rest need to slowly start happening with the manufacturers themselves - using less plastic in packaging, giving people alternatives to buying plastic water bottles, etc.
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    Dec 17 2013: Ban plastic... forever. No product should be made that doesn't naturally decompose.
    • Dec 23 2013: There are plastics that decompose reasonably easily. The most important part is most epoxy resins.

      Some products are better made from a non-self-destructing material too, so a wide scale ban is the wrong thing to do. What needs to be cut is frivolous use, such as water bottles, bags, shoes, general purpose clothing.

      In most places plastic can be replaced with materials such as glass, fabrics, metals, wood or wood-like products (using epoxy glues).

      The main thing plastics have going for them is that they're easy to mass produce by injection moulding. You cannot do that with fabrics or pure wood, but it is possible. The other problem is making the replacement materials light enough. Who wants something that does the same thing but weighs twice as much or is twice as expensive?
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    Dec 17 2013: What? I can be supplied a clean recycled plastic water bottle, but I can't get a clean drink of water from a spigot? Something's not right. Who sold us on the idea of water in a plastic bottle anyway? Follow the money and you'll know.
    • Dec 24 2013: I agree. Who is one of the largest bottlers of drinking water? Non other than Coca Cola.
      I did a tour in Iraq in 07-08 and the roadways were littered with plastic water bottles as far as the eye could see. Very depressing.
  • Dec 13 2013: I'm not sure, but I like this quote......

    "Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value."

    -Buckminster Fuller
  • Dec 28 2013: the key is kids,,

    kids will collect and sort anything if they belive it is in aid of a cause, so a school focused collection drives would be the way forward. the trick is to incentivise the schools to collate it

    this could be in the form of "tokens" for each ton of plastic that a school collects redemable for equipment or educational trips and funded either by donations from the recycling companies or preferably the companies creating the surplus plastics, the incentive for the companies is that donations are tax deductable and good for corporate image

    it would also be interesting to have items which the schools could buy back or receive in lew of donated plastics, such as play equipment/ picnic benches/ decking etc which are already made from recycled plastics

    or even clothing made from recycled plastics, such as jackets, school bags etc
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      Dec 29 2013: Thanks Charles!
      kids could be really involved in such a project.

      Nice idea to develop ;)
  • Dec 15 2013: I am an old goat - so my first idea was that goats eat everything, so just have everyone get a goat and the goats will eat the plastic and do the recycling for us (that's supposed to be a joke).
    More seriously, in the "olden days" governments wanted to reduce discarded glass, so through legislation they decreed that when you bought a drink that came in a glass bottle the store checkout would add 5 cents (American) for each bottle which would be added on to your bill and be called a bottle deposit. Later on when you finished drinking your bottles you could bring the empties back to the store and get your 5 cents per bottle back - the bottles would go back to the bottler and be reused. A lot of empty bottles never made it back to the store, but kids would earn spare change by scouring all over the place for bottles that they could bring into the store for the 5 cents per bottle deposit.

    Aluminum cans proved easier to do than glass because aluminum has relatively high intrinsic value - so most towns have active aluminum recycling available and this is all private sector driven - no government legislation required.

    Since plastic has low intrinsic value I suspect you would have to go a route similar to the glass bottle route - that is by legislation put a monetary deposit on plastic containers. To handle the diversity of plastic types you might need a bar code or other type indicator to expedite sorting.
  • Dec 14 2013: Since you are a student in plastics engineering, please read my suggestion below, see if this is practicable.
    Is there a possibility that a relatively small recycling plant, conveniently located in the center, or near center of the city, to recycle the plastics and converting, right in the same facility, into some containers or 'utensils" such as combs, forks and knives, etc. using the newly developed 3D printing machine. If this is possible, then people would like to bring only reasonable amount of used plastic bottles, etc. and trade the recyclable materials for some equivalent utensils as a fair trade. Of course, some or all of these plastic utensils could be pre-manufactured, so the "exchange" needs only one trip for the recycle trader.
    As you should know that in most of the cities, the municipality hires collecting workers and trucks and other workers, such that the municipality would end up losing money in carrying out the "recycling service". So a free market trading system would be more efficient.
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      Dec 14 2013: Thanks ! It's such a good idea, I will try to work on it :)
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      Dec 16 2013: Or to take that one step into the future, trade you plastic recyclables for “3D Printer Filament”.
      (FYI: “3D Printer Filament” looks just like a spool of weed eater line.)
      So instead of paying $15 per lb. you can get a cut rate of $10 or less per lb.

      Currently people are only printing small one time objects, but in not in the too far off future I can foresee large scale printing projects. Like custom tiles for a restroom or kitchen, personalize mega Lego sets for kids, custom quad-copter frames and blades, etc. etc. etc.
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        Dec 16 2013: The Filabot is the first attempt at recycling plastics to make 3d printer filament. However, they seem to have been sidetracked somehow and gotten greedy... http://www.filabot.com/
        But I'm betting that we'll see the first good product of a system like this within two years.

        And people aren't only making small stuff, there have been printed; Guns, clothes, skulls, bikes, shoes, cars and exoskeletons just to mention some.
        You can order a gMax today I believe, it prints 16" x 16" x 9" and if that's not enough you can always but a VX4000 which prints 4m x 2m x 1m...

        There's also a TED talk from TEDxOjai that aims to print houses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdbJP8Gxqog

        Well, there's a ton of stuff out there if you care to google, or you could go to http://www.reddit.com/r/3dprinting to see all kinds of cool stuff.
      • Dec 16 2013: My idea of recyclable trading FOR utensils is for the convenience of the consumer/plastics owner to have readily useful commodities he can trade for, Most of the people wouldn't need large amount of filament anyway.
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    Dec 11 2013: In my area (US Midwest) we have “Single Stream Recycling” AI: all recyclable materials (Paper, plastic, & metal cans) can be placed in the same recycling container. (Plastic bags still need to be separated) This makes it easier to recycle, I have not heard if or how much this is helping.
    PS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-stream_recycling

    Personal would love to see and use recycling-exchanges; with a recycling-exchange being a place where you can trade recyclables for near equal amount of building material. AI: empty plastic bottle are traded for plastic chips or sheets, 5-pounds of aluminum cans is traded for 4 pound aluminum bar, etc.

    This would encourage people to recycle and learn to build things themselves, like people use to do.
    • Dec 23 2013: Will trade bottles for wood?

      I see a small problem with that system - few people have the tools to actually work in plastic.
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    Dec 11 2013: Here in Oregon recycling is popular. I have a large bin for recycling where we put all paper, cardboard, and certain plastics, and it gets hauled away once a week. The reason we recycle rather than throw this stuff into garbage is that we pay for the garbage (it must fit in one container), while recycling volume is unlimited. If not for the recycling bin, we would need 2 or 3 garbage containers.

    A few years ago, recycling company required residents to sort paper, plastic, glass, and scrap metal into separate bins, but now they all can be mixed except glass which is VERY convenient. I agree with Bryan that necessity to sort the junk is a big deterrent for recycling.

    There is still a problem - plastic bags cannot be thrown into our home recycling bin. This is a big bummer. Plastic bags make the second largest volume of our waste that does not go into our recycling bin after paper towels. Many grocery stores started to accept plastic bags for recycling. This year, we started to put plastic bags into larger plastic bags instead of throwing them away. Those bundles go into the trunk of our car and when we are at the store, we recycle them. The problem is that we are often driving around with the trunk full of plastic bags for several weeks and forget to recycle them. So, it is still quite inconvenient.

    The bottom line of my story - people will use recycling instead of garbage when it will be EASIER and/or CHEAPER for them to recycle than to use garbage. If it takes a special trip somewhere to recycle, very few people would do it. When we had 2 babies, I had to get a larger garbage container from the waste company (diapers) and pay $56 for it instead of $31 or so for the smaller container. I still use the larger container although we don't use diapers any more. $25 is not a huge difference. But if I had to pay $100 more for a larger conatiner, I would, definitely, get a smaller one and get rid of those paper towels as well.
  • Dec 31 2013: This is the Continuation of the comment below this entry

    However add in human innovation (Ideas???) and inventiveness; and this mixture could be used to build e.g. artificial reefs incorporating wire mesh to allow coral, to cover them over; blocks for sea walls, to hold back rising sea levels, foundation slabs for construction, the list is only limited by the human imagination.

    The outside walls of the solar heated metal vats for melting the plastic could also incorporate pipes, through which sea water would be pumped and heated; this would serve to desalinate the water via distillation, while also supplying steam energy to generate electricity, to be used by the facility.

    This brings us to shipping costs; when we consider that shipping costs are already involved in the current practise of dumping western plastic waste, into third world countries; this cannot be said to be an issue.
    Sincerely hope this provides a basis; for a flood of related thoughts, comments, and ideas, from TED members.

    Cheers Carl
  • Dec 31 2013: Before reading this comment in relation to plastic recycling and disposal, it might be worthwhile to use the WWW to refer to such documentaries as Mega Construction, Mega Factories, Mighty Machines etc. and the reason I say this, because it will show that what I am proposing is perfectly reasonable and feasible.

    The first step in dealing with the plastic pollution problem, is the organisation of the gathering in of plastic from the environment, and I am sure many TED members will have ideas in this regard; the second or combined step, is to prevent plastic items being disposed of into the environment, e.g. by placing a returnable deposit on all plastic bottles etc. and setting up plastic collection centres. The next step is to build industrial plastic recycling centres on the coastal regions of very hot “sun-drenched” coastal regions, with shipping ports.

    These centres would have very large elevated metal vats, preferably made of heat conducting copper or with heat conducting rods passing through the lower part of the vat; the heat supply needed to melt the flakes of plastic being recycled, would be gained from the sun, using multiple concave solar mirrors to focus its rays onto the external surface of the conductive rods, passing through the lower part of the vat.

    Below this vat of the resultant molten plastic; industrial sized mixing machinery and vats, would serve to mix the molten plastic with sand, or waste (crushed) concrete and brick from construction sites. The resultant sand and plastic mixture when cooled into e.g. blocks, would then be heavy enough to sink down into the quiet (no currents to cause plastic erosion) deepest areas of the oceans, which are several kilometres deep.

    Continued above this comment
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    Dec 29 2013: Recycling costs energy. The best way to reduce plastic waste is not using plastics. Bring your own bag to the shop, try to use more organic materials which can easily be composted after use.
    The industries should be forced to produce less plastic and think twice before they make products which leave tons of plastic after unpacking the product.
    Completely ban plastics is an utopia. I agree that some products need plastic. e.g. cucumbers. The plastic around it makes it that less cucumber becomes waste.
  • Dec 29 2013: The best way to improve plastic recycling is publicity.Tell people the importance of recycling plastic.
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    Dec 28 2013: this may seem a little far fetched but I was thinking of filling up hundreds - thousands with sand ,gravel or maybe even some other substance ... not sure , then sinking them in the ocean to form a base for a reef . Im not sure if the corals would attach to the plastic may have to punch holes in the bottles so the sand would come out .

    Im not a scientist or a biologist just a dreamer , any opinions
    • Dec 28 2013: the main issue with this would be the chemicals that would leach out of the plactics into the water. but otherwise an interesting idea
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        Dec 29 2013: and will be eaten by animals before being attached by such a substance
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          Dec 30 2013: they would not be just floating around on the ocean floor , they would be enclosed in a ss mesh bag then anchored to the floor no chance on getting eaten by a hungry sea,l shark, octopus, etc...
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        Dec 30 2013: not sure of what chems your talking about , we as humans do drink from them and we seem to be safe .
        • Dec 30 2013: do a little digging on bisphenol A, the levels involved on a bottle by bottle basis are deemed to be safe for consumption, currently

          however your idea isnt one bottle at a time, and the lifeforms involved not human

          chemical leaching does occur, but usually on a small scale,

          as i said your idea does have merit, but its still essentially a pretty landfill, albeit one off shore and out of site
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      Dec 29 2013: What would be the difference between this and landfills? Only that we'd have pollution in the sea instead where it would easily risk getting washed away.

      I think that the currently best method of disposal of plastics is in Mike Biddle's idea. We can recycle plastic on a huge scale. http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_biddle.html
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        Dec 30 2013: the containers could be anchored together to form one giant base maybe enclosed in a stainless steel mesh bag , could easily be anchored to the floor without too much difficulty or cost
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          Dec 30 2013: While I appreciate the idea of trying to do something good for the ocean I don't think that this is the right way to go.

          If we made a steel mesh containing plastic, plastic would still leak out unless the mesh was extremely fine, which would be of great cost. You see, plastic continues to break into smaller and smaller particles through time and those particles would in time leak and be digested by the smaller creatures of the ocean and then proceed to move up the food chain through digestion.

          Also the cost of transporting the plastic to ships and then to locations on open sea would indeed be of great cost. And there is no use for any sea creatures of plastic. There is however use for different species of the oceans for different metals like iron and steel.

          Some projects around the world are producing iron mesh frames that are then dropped into the ocean, and in time coral reefs grow on them. Thailand has even dropped old tanks (the kind used by the military, not containers) into the ocean to help in the formation of coral reefs.
  • Dec 25 2013: Recycling is not the answer as it still needs fossil fuel, to convert, remould, transport it etc. and the production of plastic is increasing, outstripping recycling and landfill.

    The world does not get it!! plastic is purified bitumen/tar/oil solidified, and poisonous to life; and it is constantly recycled in our oceans, as it chokes or poisons sea birds and (On the island of Midway a major breeding ground for the Albatross, every dead bird and dead chick autopsied, had plastic items in their stomachs) and marine life; and as their bodies decompose, it is then released to kill/murder, over and over again.

    The Corporate production of cheap nasty plastic crap, is constantly increasing; despite their awareness that plastic is accumulative and disastrous; as nature cannot get rid of it. It is truly a "Corporate Driven Evil" and inhuman obscenity; that there are entire beaches made of plastic granules rather than sand; and smaller granules are being ingested and digested by marine life; which will be forced to evolve to metabolize hydrocarbons in order to survive; then add in Corporate driven petro chemical pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing, and climate change; I do not see much hope for any warm blooded species, as long as these avaricious by proxy genocidal maniacs, are given free reign.

    Q. Given. oil has to go through more processes, in order to become plastic, than does petrol which is simply distilled; how its it that we can buy a large moulded and coloured plastic item, for less than we pay for a litre of petrol.

    A. Because big businesses can purchase oil and derivatives, for a tiny fraction of the price we have to pay for petrol. To the point; that plastic is so cheap to manufacture, it is now being used to make "trillions" of kids sweet wrappers/sweet bags/sweet containers, each day of the year: All of which end up in landfill, sewers, rivers, and the oceans, and are unneeded, we did not need them 50 years ago; and we need rid of them now
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    Dec 24 2013: I live in Germany since 2011 and I really can see the difference with Italy when we talk about recycling and the answer is..MONEY!
    When you go to the supermarket and buy a plastic bottle, you pay it the normal cost + 25 cents for "pfand" = caution. Then it's your choice: you can throw the bottle away and lose your money or bring it back to the store and get your money back.
    25 cents sound like nothing, but if you add 25+25+25..at the end of the year it's quite a lot!
  • Dec 18 2013: Two things that control what and how people do things: Convenience and rewards.
    Make it more convenient to recycle. Most people will not seek out the recycle bin to recycle. More locations need to have more spots to recycle. But not just restaurants and stores either. Lake Michigan is near my home and the areas by the lake are full of garbage. But if more recycling cans/bins were around we could significantly cut down on the litter as well as get more recyclables. Second, people save up cans to get that 5 cents per can. Similar rewards should be given for pastic aterials.
  • Dec 18 2013: Thank you very much for starting this conversation Julie, it's great to see the different approaches being taken to this issue all over the world. Existing approaches that I favour are recycling bins alongisde rubbish bins in the street as well as the home, and the charge on bottles and cans which is refunded if you return the material.

    I am working on a project en ce moment on trying to incentivise better social responsibility and behaviour among households. The goal is to formulate an index of how a community performs on a number of variables - percentage of waste recycled, average electricity consumed per household, blood donations, charitable donations, and 3 others - which will allow communities to be ranked on a leaderboard based on how socially responsible they are. Top-performing communities will be rewarded with a periodic prize fund and/or discounts from service providers.

    It reflects my belief that a combination of awareness, 'peer pressure'/self-comparison, and financial incentives can improve recycling and other behaviours. A related concept in the utilities field might be of interest to you http://www.ted.com/talks/alex_laskey_how_behavioral_science_can_lower_your_energy_bill.html .

    Bonne chance avec vos études
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    Dec 17 2013: I don't know much about plastic recycling methods but I think that we (consumers)can change the trend of companies. If we start purchasing echo friendly products and cosmetics etc which are packed in 100% post consumer recycled bottles, the companies will surely change their packing according to trend. There are a few stores which are offering echo friendly products like
    http://www.naturalorganiccare.co.uk , Dr. Bornner products and many more
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    Dec 14 2013: Um, did anyone pay any attention to the VERY relevant Talk I shared?

    "Mike Biddle: We can recycle plastic" http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_biddle.html

    Maybe I should just copy the transcript and post it for you guys....
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      Dec 14 2013: Thank you for sharing ! Very interesting !
  • Dec 11 2013: Ms. Nawfal, I am witness as we all are to this tragic age of disposable products and I commend you on your goals for making this a healthier planet. I would like to suggest two ideas which may be of value to your quest. In Maine we have a refund value for plastic bottles and aluminum can which could be taken to a store put in a machine and a refund slip would appear at the end of the transaction. My other thought is a little more psychological, it would involve getting our roles models out in the public's eye to lead by example. Here in the states many young adults and children have role models be it musicians, athletes and dare I say politicians who they aspire to. Your challenge is noble and I commend you on your choice for it is our present that dictates our future. People such as you give hope to myself and others that apathy for our planet and civilization will one day join the great brains and spirit that we are blessed with .I thank you
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      Dec 14 2013: Thank you so much for your encouragements and ideas !
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    Dec 11 2013: If the product has value people will recycle it. It is ridiculous to think that government can help.
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      Dec 11 2013: My government is earning a lot of money on this... And it's helping...
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      Dec 11 2013: But Pat has a very valid point. Financial gain would be really good for this, then people would think that they were throwing away money, not junk.

      In Sweden we have the recycling of cans and plastic bottles and over 98% of all cans and bottles are recycled because throwing them is a huge waste of money (a can costs about $0.15 and a bottle 4 times that).

      And the cans that people do throw away are picked up by homeless people, Gothenburg has even made their trash bins two-split, one for the trash and one for the recycling that homeless people can take without needing to go through the trash.

      Give the same economic incentive with plastics and we'd see none in the streets or in nature.
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        Dec 11 2013: You are right guys! Thanks for all your replies.
        There is also such a system here, in France : people just pay for each kilo of waste they put in bins.
        But what about thinking of something without financial gain ?
        The idea of recylcing without sorting seems good, but it's chemically problematic... We have to work on it !
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          Dec 11 2013: We're just starting to implement the "pay by kilo" here, it's resulted in much more trash in public spaces and nature... I think the costs are greater then the gains for this, or maybe it's a passing phase...

          There's a difference between financial punishment and opportunity for financial gain...
        • Dec 11 2013: I lived in a city that had forced recycling. The efforts to which people would go to avoid it were probably more costly than the effort to do the recycling, but people still did it because they resented government intruding into YET ANOTHER PART OF LIFE. Likewise, since it was government, any entity with political influence found ways to get exempted. Government cannot be trusted.
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        Dec 17 2013: "Financial gain would be really good for this, then people would think that they were throwing away money, not junk."

        I got the giggles when I read this because I learnt years ago that our rubbish tips (in New Zealand) had a process of dumping all plastic milk bottles in one area (in the hope that a solution could be found and the plastic easily retrieved) so I could just see the headline "Dump Heist...Robbers steal 52 tonnes of plastic!"
  • Dec 11 2013: Develop a recycling method that does not require sorting.
  • Jan 9 2014: Hi Julie

    I have just started an "Ideas" conversation titled "Hot plastic and sand mixing; for disposal or re-moulding" and a little later I will be expanding on the original idea in order to include; the recovery of the precious metals from electrical appliances, and electronic components.

    Cheers Carl
  • Jan 9 2014: Hi Julie

    I have just started an "Ideas" conversation in regard to and titled "Hot plastic & sand mixing; for disposal and/or re-moulding"
    and shall be expanding on the original idea a little later, in regard to recovering the precious metals from electronic equipment and components, and thus recycling them.

    Cheers Carl
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    Jan 8 2014: A little divergent thinking here, how about the manufactures of all this plastic start making the containers multipurpose? For example I but the dog treats the come in the square plastic, large lid plastic containers and I save them and reuse them in to store small items. I could empty plastic bottles but with the round odd shapes and small lids, they are only designed for one use.

    So what if lot of the plastic packaging could be stacked like Lagos, stuffed with plastic bags and be used to build stuff. Bottles that would have female screw bottoms an male screw tops so people could make long useful tubes.
  • Jan 8 2014: Hi
  • Jan 8 2014: For every tenth plastic and its plastic deravative manufacture, there could be the law governing for 11 th plastic produce to be an recycled or reused version of the same... Be it any plastic range from 1-6..
    I am Assistant Professor from India, would be able to shell out few ideas on Reverse Logistics On Plastic Management.
    Well, my research Topics of Interest..
    Please feel free to comment on the above idea and open to discussion.
  • Jan 8 2014: The key word for success is motivation, unfortunately nowadays you can motivate only by rewarding. Here is the answer: reward people for recycling.
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    Jan 8 2014: Recycling is just a way of solution ,not protection. The fundamental way to solve environment problem is not recycling but to protect from concept to daily action.
    • Jan 8 2014: Plastic not recycling is a bad habit. Bad habit are easy, good habits require forethought, and work. It's easy through marketing to sell bottled water, and ignore the bottles result.
      The solution to plastics, is to not make anything out of plastics, that is not recyclable. This can be done, and eventually will be forced to do it, or we suffer big issues. The plastic industry produces unrecyclable plastics, because they can, and no one, no one, is telling or forcing or regulating, not to.
      Just ask them, and they will tell you, they will not change until they are made to, period. In Europe, all cars have to be 99% recyclable! there are no piles of dead cars there. It must and will change here, only, when the public, demands, a better habit, of dealing with plastics.
      We are now beginning to chock on plastics, our oceans are so dirty from plastics, all animal life has plastics in their stomachs. It is killing the life in all of the oceans.
  • Jan 7 2014: Isn't there some woman in choina who is among the richest in the world, who made her fortune thru recycling?

    How about asking HER how to best recycle! That will give us an idea ofhow much money can be made (the profit).

    Then make recucling mandatory! If some company or entrepreneur decides that riches are to be made, it will happen!

    Everythin g is driven by the bottom line.
  • Jan 7 2014: it's been done. there's even a ted talk on it (search for 'mike biddle'). all that's needed is for governments to build the plants and write the legislation that ensures plastics are collected and recycled.
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    Jan 7 2014: Dearest Julie,

    I love these two young scientists, their idea is brilliant. http://www.ted.com/talks/two_young_scientists_break_down_plastics_with_bacteria.html

    As individuals, we can commit to using glass containers and refraining from using any disposable plastics in our daily lives. There is no amount of recycling we could do to reverse the damage. Correction must be done at the production factory level. When we keep on consuming, factories will keep on producing. So a great start is stopping our buying on our end :)

    What really changed me is:
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    Jan 6 2014: I saw a system of recycling based on rewards. In this city, there was a monthly charge for trash removal. Then a new recycle can was issued with with instructions that recycled materials in these cans would not be charged for removal. And since most residents would need smaller cans for regular trash, the charge would be reduced. It was about half. There was an estimated 85% compliance with the new program.
    The city sorted metal, glass, plastics and paper from the recycle cans and the sale of these products about covered the cost of the program.
    Would these program work everywhere? I think so. The only weakness is the marketability of the sorted products.
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    Jan 4 2014: /
    Hi Julie
    I particularly like the simple effective smiley face speed trap, which works so well for speeding traffic in school zones. People need immediate positive feedback, even competitive prompts (the plastics recycled from your neighbor three houses down weighed X amount and yours weighs Y amount. Or have kids get caught "green handed" and even a green stamp or sticker for recognition as a badge of pride. Bonus points at local retailers may work wonders.

    As far as techniques are concerned, there seems to be a few methods that are worth doing. Dianna Cohen mentions how poisonous the by-products of plastics recycling can be.

    Amy Lou Jenkins writes a decent summary of the TED talk with a patented 30-step system used by Mike Biddle here:
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    Jan 3 2014: Like it or not, people generally always take the path of least resistance. I work in the public sector and often see people propose all sorts of ideas requiring people to do various things on their end, but the bottom line is that if something is complicated or requires a lot of time, people won't do it. Do I take half an hour from my busy day to drive to a battery recycling center as the law requires, or do I just hide my dead batteries in the rubbish? Most people choose the latter (fortunately, we have a battery recycling bin at work).

    For plastic recycling, we need to rely more on the manufacturers of plastic than on the users of that plastic. The sad truth is most people won't spend a lot of time separating their plastics into various numbered bins. However, if manufacturers make plastic more standardized, this won't matter. It can all just be recycled together.
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    Dec 31 2013: Hi Julie!

    I'm very much interested in your viewpoint on plastics.

    Have you seen this? http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_biddle.html

    or the other 3 particularly relevant talks on the same link?

    What do you think of thermo catalytic depolymerisation as it relates to plastic waste disposal?

    when plastics are recycled, does the new product have as much quality as products made from virgin plastic? for how many generations? do you think it would be possible now or in the near future to use recycled plastic indefinitely over and over?

    My thoughts on plastic recycling is that the different colored recycling bins are very effective. Here in India, there are people who come to your house and weigh recyclable materials and pay you for it by weight. I don't know if plastic is included in that or what the price is since I give all my recyclable to a homeless guy.

    I really think that the whole idea of landfill should be reevaluated into a "sorted holding area for non biodegradables"
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      Jan 1 2014: This summer, I made a training in a company which recycles all the production's waste. As I saw, you can recycle plastic indefinitely, but the recycled plastic wasn't used totally in the production : it was used for 70% maximum in the raw materials (70% of recycled plastic and 30% of virgin plastic, colored plastic etc.). We are able nowadays to make products with 100% recycled plastic.

      For the problem of quality, it's true that recycled plastic has not the same quality as virgin plastic (it's still a good one). That's why we need to improve plastic recycling. We need only 16 plastic bottles to make a pullover !
  • Dec 31 2013: Maybe heat dissolution is one way ,but which cost too much .
    • Dec 31 2013: Solar energy costs nothing; plus you have desalination of sea water to pure water, and steam energy electricity generation as a by product and bonus
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    Dec 30 2013: At Greenbuild this year (Philadephia), the carpet tile company, Inteface, did an amazing presentation on how they're harvesting abandoned fishing nets in the Philippines and other Pacific areas and converting them to carpet fiber. The whole story is pretty amazing, and has so many impacts that are positive for the people. Banking, jobs, recycling, cleaning up the ocean, International relations, zoological society work, and beyond. Link here: https://www.facebook.com/InterfaceAmericas/app_578933638794319

    Perhaps similar programs could be created and implemented to reclaim other plastics from roadsides and other undesirable areas. There would be harvesters, central collection points, markets identified and logistics including shipping taken care of. Ambitious, but interesting I think.
  • Dec 30 2013: I would say that as as lot of people have been saying the key issue is in awareness. More people are taking an interest in saving energy but the true benefits of recycling are less clear. So I would suggest a labelling system similar to the nutritional information that has become a law to include in the UK there could be a colour coded system informing the consumer of the carbon footprint of the product, although a new measuring system may be usefull as I have no idea how much 38grams of carbon really is. Or you could do the opposite and inform people how much energy they are saving if they recycle the item but put in terms of everyday things like how long you could power a light bulb or phone for. Putting either of these on the packaging would make it much more difficult to ignore so might help encourage poeple to recycle. But I am not an expert just a design student with an interest in eco friendly design.
  • Dec 30 2013: I write a blog with theoretic leads and solutions to hundreds of humanitarian problems. One of these is about a modal for B-grade vegetables and fruits, to coock them. Well for this I needed plastic at bottom prices so I thought recycling plastic. Well I figurred it is good if certain products their plastic become the same good for easy recycling, and ths to collect specificly. It is pure wilderness at this stage, it needs to uniform plastic packedging.
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    JB E

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    Dec 30 2013: As a plastics engineering student, you know more about the molecular properties of plastics, so maybe you would know better. Can all plastis be regulated so that they all have at least one similar property enabling them to be manipulated better after they have been produced? I have found it frustrating that most of the plastic used to produce usable structural products cannot effectively be glued together with out remelting or expensive glueing procedures and products. The plastic I like to work with the most is PVC as it has an easy and cheap way of gluing it so as enabling me to remake structures with it. This would enable people to repurpose many plastic products that would otherwise be discarded because the products shape no longer serves its purpose. For example, I recently used old plastic laundry tubs to build a modular portable hydroponics system. one of the challenges was finding ways to fasten other plastic parts to the tubs because the plastic used to make the tubs was not pvc but another form of plastic that I couldn't find any "affordable" ways to glue anything to it with good strong bonds. I was able to accomplish my design due in large part to my selection of the preformed tubs already had most of the functional forms molded into it already and the other penetrations and attachments were done with mechanical fittings. So, perhaps regulating the plastics industry to formulate them so as they can all be rebuilt easier, remolded or at least find a cheap glue that works on them all.
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    Dec 30 2013: We should use the advantage of plastic that is it last for long time in environment. We can make non useful things to use full by creativity. By using plastic we can make furniture, momentos, doors etc so many things......
    Buy doing this we can use the plastic as well as we can create employment in in this filed.....
  • Dec 30 2013: The world needs information about plastic recycling.
    Plastic is easier to recycle and causes less pollution than paper recycling.
    Nothing biodegrades in a landfill. So things with less volume are better in a landfill.
    Communities must demand recycling pick up. Charge less for sorted recyclable material.
    Kids are a great place to start.
    I don't think there is a way to recycle unsorted plastics yet.
    Plastic creates lots of btus when burned.
    I worked in plastics recycling 20 years ago and the technology was there. The cost was high unless you got the volume up. So people must buy into recycling. Europe is ahead of the US because space for landfills isn't as available.
    All litter must be kept out of the environment. Higher fines? More education is probably a better solution.
  • Dec 29 2013: There should be self employed personels whose duty to collect plastic from garbage and put them in the precise place and then melt it and recycle it
    • Dec 29 2013: problem is that the price per ton and volume needed to reach that weight makes it unprofitable for indiduals to do without additional subsidies or incentives
  • Dec 29 2013: Well i believe the best way to Improve plastic Recycling all over the world is by having all plastic bottles or materials made in such a way thats it's easy to recycle in large masses without causing major pollution. For example a Machine that uses very hot water to melt the plastic turning it into its original form, in that case we are not using any form of fossil fuel 0% pollution. Well i don't know am just putting some thoughts together :)

    PS. This machine Runs on corn oil
    • Dec 29 2013: interesting concept to use superheated water to melt plastics, however, geo thermal heating would be a better method than corn oil imho,

      that said there could possibly a tie in with power plants, where you could use the waste turbine water to do a similar job as its already preheated, an additional burst of heat from electrical heaters and you have cheap steam, run the smelting plant overnight when power demand is at its lowest but still being produced and you would be onto a winner for making viable plastic feedstocks for manufacturing
      • Dec 31 2013: Your Idea seems Solid.. haha i had mine mixed up but thanks man we can always share ideas on twitter follow me @911_itzhizzle .
  • Dec 29 2013: I heard there is a plastic eating bacteria been discovered in the Amazon. Researching that and putting it into action might help.

    The other way of going around the plastic issue could be to try making it more expensive, so people would use the alternatives more, and there are alternatives.
  • Dec 29 2013: I believe that the recycling of all human products should be made compulsory in order to lessen waste, landfills etc. Imagine if every major corporation was forced to ensure that say 30% of their products must be made from recycled materials. All rubbish thrown out by people should be automatically recycled and all products should be made such that they are designed to be recyclable.
  • Dec 28 2013: your idea makes me excted
  • Dan F

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    Dec 26 2013: Hi Julie,

    I think your concern about this problem is fundamentally important in the noble role of responsibility to protect our future natural environment from products that are harmful and/or constitute a waste management problem after use. One of my favorite past Ted talks was given by: "Mike Biddle: We can recycle plastic." His comments on this subject were interesting and educational. Plastics are complex and there are interesting legal issues.

    Obviouly, there is a cost/benefit aspect to the use of plastics and how to best manage this problem is the issue.

    Good luck in your pursuit of this idealist goal that could well make you famous some day!
  • Dec 24 2013: Most people don't know much about plastic recycling and not interested.
    So we need a campaign to promote awareness of plastic recycling.
  • Dec 21 2013: Fund research that bespeaks how much better recycled plastic is than virgin plastic. Get the research in the science and business magazines and hire some green bloggers to post the findings. Form a council that can legislate all plastics must identify how much recycled material was used to make anything made from plastic. The UN would be a good place to force member nations to cooperate to save the oceans.

    Use a rating system. Formulate some basic identifiers. Color code it and get manufacturers to voluntary incorporate the new recycle plastic legend. If the manufacturer is progressive have the plastic indicate if it participates in the "clean the ocean of all plastic" movement. If the plastic wrap is clear and recycled then it should say "recycled."

    Put some pressure on bottlers to change their packaging to include recycled plastic. Get them to pay for the marketing that encourages the user to recycle. You could also try to change the molecular structure of plastic and reduce it's shelf life to specific target dates to dissolve into inert matter. That's always an option.
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    Dec 20 2013: We need a home/personal use recycling system. It would be great to convert them and use with 3D printers...
    • Dec 23 2013: A small scale solution will be expensive in terms of electricity. Might be pretty bad for the environment.

      Most people do not know what to do with 3D printers anyway, let alone create 3D models necessary for them.
      It's still some ways until 3D printing reaches the masses.
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      Dec 29 2013: The problem with 3D printers is that they are still expensive and difficult to use. Well, I mean it's easier to buy something instead of creating models and waiting for hours to get the final product etc.
      We have such a printer in our school, but it takes more than 10 hours to make an object of 10x10x10 cm and the row material is really expensive... Even if we use recycled plastic, we need to make it have the good form, so it would probably be more expensive than buying a new product.
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        Dec 30 2013: Julie,

        Your school probably bought your 3D printer 2-3 years back, what you claim about price and and time is no longer true for the newer printers.

        If you wish to know more about 3D printers i advice visiting http://www.3ders.org/ and reading some articles there to begin with.
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          Jan 1 2014: Sorry, but I really don't believe 3D printers will have a good future.
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        Jan 1 2014: That's alright. I believe that you will be proven wrong in the near future by your own personal experience. :)

        I've been looking at 3D printers very closely for two years now and just in the last 6 months there has been GREAT progress.
        And next year a whole bunch of patents that have restricted 3D printing a lot will be made free to use.

        Here's a TED blog on "7 talks on the wonder of 3D printing" that might convince you otherwise... And most of them aren't even up to date...


        Well, you don't have to believe me, we can still be friends :)
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    Dec 18 2013: Hmm? No need to reinvent the wheel here, just use the mass media.
    And I’m not talking a about having celebrities do recycling commercials, that normally has minimum effect.
    Instead contact film and TV producers and writers and ask them to replace scenes of someone taking out the trash to taking out the recycles. Donate recycle bins to prop departments for the media.

    I’m guessing for most people seeing their favorite star or show recycling will have a noticeable effect.
    Something as small as recycling bin seen in a back stage shoot on the voice or some other pop show, can only help encourage recycling.
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    Dec 16 2013: More people would tote bags instead if you had to pay for the plastic bags.
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      Dec 16 2013: Sadly no... Can't believe you don't pay for them... Here they cost about $0.20 and it doesn't help, people still almost always buy a bag when shopping.
      • Dec 18 2013: Perhaps cultural differences exist between our countries, but this was implemented in Ireland about 8 years ago and has had a very positive effect. Bags (at least in supermarkets) cost 15-20c and much more people bring their won now rather than buy in-store. Many shops sell sturdy bags for €1 which never need to be replaced. It has also incentivised people to think of innovative solutions for more convenient shopping, such as Trolley Bags https://www.facebook.com/trolleybags .

        I think this charge should be the norm everywhere.
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          Dec 18 2013: That's great!

          I think that maybe it's the businesses model, they actually want to sell as many bags as possible so there isn't an option of buying any sturdy bags in basically any store... Instead they try to trick us by having sponsor bags (for football teams, cancer relief and such) right next to the ordinary ones that cost 3-5 times more and you often can't see which ones you're picking up without bending under the counter to look at the bag thoroughly, which is hindering the line...

          Our supermarkets have specialized in trying to rip us off with the sales of plastic bags...
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    Dec 14 2013: As you surely know, all plastics are not equal. There is PP, PE, polycarbonate, polystyrene, PVC, etc
    In order to efficiently recycle them, you'd need to sort them by polymer type. Question is how do you do that ? Most people don't know the difference between all those polymers. I don't think you can expect people to sort plastic materials by type.
    Perhaps one could find ways to add a marker to the different polymers that could then be automatically detected (at the recycling plant), helping to sort the polymers by type. Question is what markers could be used ?
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      Dec 15 2013: There is a way to differentiate plastics : please see that link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resin_identification_code
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        Dec 15 2013: I didn't know about that, thanks!
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        Dec 16 2013: Julie, yes I know but that doesn't work for everything. That's a gut system for bottles for example but wouldn't work for example pieces of plastic one extracts from a TV or kitchen appliance or from some plastic wrapping. Those things don't come with codes.
        Even in the case of plastic materials that are coded, consumers most likely find it too complicated to separate them by type.
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      Dec 15 2013: Or with Mike Biddle's idea we could just throw everything in the same container and it gets sorted at the plant.
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        Dec 16 2013: I think that's more practical considering that there are many different kinds of plastics and, as I mentioned above, the consumer not always has the means to identify the material.
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          Dec 17 2013: I completely agree. Well built plants are the solution. What would be even greater would be if we could scale the plant down A LOT so that there was the possibility of having a "recycling machine" of sorts in stores or special places that people could just put their plastics into and get money for it. So that people could actually collect plastics from the streets and nature and get an instant quick reward for it. Well, there wouldn't be any plastics left in streets or nature but you get what I mean right.
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        Dec 17 2013: Maybe larger business could install plastic shredders (like vending machines) where people just can drop their plastic waste and the machine would shred it and, if nothing else reduce the volume.
        If we could add some kind of markers as I suggested in my initial post, that allows to identify the polymer type, the plastic chips could then be sorted in a recycling facility.
        If people could make a few bucks recycling their waste, then this would be some additional incentive.
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          Dec 30 2013: That has been one of my money making schemes for some time... However I never seem to follow through with those schemes...
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    Dec 14 2013: Je pense que le meilleur moyen c'est "la réduction à la source", c'est à dire éviter au maximum l'utilisation de sacs plastique pour ne pas avoir à gérer les déchets qui en découlent ! Je suis mauritanien, et chez moi les sacs plastiques( pas les bouteilles) sont tous simplement interdits ! ça ne veut pas dire que le probème est réglé, mais ça réduit considérablement le nombre de déchets plastique ( d'autant plus que la filière de recyclage est quasi inexistante chez moi ) .
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      Dec 15 2013: En France aussi l'utilisation des sacs plastiques a été réduite, et on encourage l'utilisation de sacs réutilisables. Cela réduit le problème, mais il faudrait s'attaquer également aux emballages des produits de grande consommation que l'on trouve dans nos supermarchés : beaucoup de produits alimentaires, mais aussi non alimentaires, sont emballés plusieurs fois (sachet fraîcheur, carton, puis encore un film plastique...). Mais cela ne peut être fait que par les industriels, les consommateurs n'y sont pour rien...
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        Dec 15 2013: Once upon a time here at TED conversations we started to have conversations in many different languages, those were great times...
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      Dec 15 2013: Je pense que vous faites à la fois de très bons points. Les choses devraient commencer au début et à prendre soin de la quantité de plastique que nous mettons dans la société seraient d'un grand secours. J'espère que cette traduction était un peu bien.
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    Dec 13 2013: As a consumer, the best solution is to simply reduce the amount of fossil-fuel plastics that one utilizes. For example, there really isn't a need to buy bottled water, as our tap water is safer to consume and better regulated (http://people.chem.duke.edu/~jds/cruise_chem/water/wattap.html). Besides, many of the plastics that we throw into our recycle bins are not even recyclable (http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/plastics.htm).

    On a larger scale, it would be beneficial for corporations to utilize better alternatives than fossil-fuel plastics, such as
    bioplastics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic) or other environmentally sustainable alternatives. Not to mention that many companies should get on board with recycling post-consumer plastics, mainly for the potential cost savings alone. If this isn't enough motivation, our governments could promote this stewardship by offering tax breaks and/or subsidizing corporations that manufacture recycled materials and products.

    If one wants to play a more activist role, find or start up a recycling group within the community. Given that we live in a culture of convenience, facilitate this "convenience" by assisting the community with recycling, even if it means going door to door.
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    Dec 13 2013: I have not seen the talk, but, I think that plastic recycling can be done on a bigger scale, like, in many different cities, by making available the plastic-recycling technology to all those different cities or villages... If there is plastic-recycling plant in a city, then, the people of that city can be told to take steps to put the plastic things to recycle them instead of throwing it in the open.
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    Dec 13 2013: I guess this can only be solved through the power of market. People are all lazy without stimulation, if we want something, we must give something for exchange, that is the theory of demand-supply. I think you can learn something from Germany which is really good at this.
  • Dec 12 2013: "people just pay for each kilo of waste they put in bins". --- This is really NOT the solution, it's just an indirect tax.

    Is it YOUR fault the volume packaging of a product contains?

    This is just the same system as Carbon Tax on planes, if we truly were concerned, (apart from governments making money) we'd DEMAND that the jet engines were more efficient. That is the ONLY thing that will make positive CHANGE.

    So this pay-per-kilo, as well as carbon tax, are NOT solutions, in fact all they do is keep the Status-Quo, and it really annoys me that just because people have a 'recycle bin' they think they are doing good.

    I'm sorry to say, that too many people have been fooled by both of these, we need to scrap them both, and other 'feel good' plans, and honestly start demanding and creating real long term tangible solutions.

    If we dont, the reality is we ARE just continuing as before, but have conned our-self into feeling better about it.
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      Dec 14 2013: You are right, and that's why I've started this conversation. I'd like to find other ideas which will encourage people to recycle without punishing them. Recycling has to be universal, and people have to believe that recycling is the only way to preserve our resources.
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    Dec 11 2013: we make some valuable item from them,
  • Dec 11 2013: Recycling is not someone "else's job". Consumers, retailers, producers need to be a part of the process. We cannot leave it to the government and service providers alone to recycle. We need to make sure that something "goes back" to consumers who recycle. So just like in the good old days one returned empty glass Coke bottle to the retailer and picked up filled ones, paying for the beverage, one needs to do the same with plastic bottles and containers of all kinds. If a customer does not have an "empty" he or she pays more. If you are creating an environment issue, you need to help solve it.
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    Dec 11 2013: Maybe encourage people to walk more? I like to walk, and it's easy when you're walking to pick up plastic that other people have thrown down. Then you can bring it home and eventually turn it in for money.
  • Dec 11 2013: Plastics can be made from plants and supposedly they break down faster in the environment. You may want to start there.
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    Dec 11 2013: I recommend this Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_biddle.html

    I can't see the original title since TED auto translates the title for me and I can't disable it. It's something about recycling plastic...
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    Dec 11 2013: How about creating a machine that converts the energy released from the breakdown of the plastic to a direct usable form of energy for vehicles and homes. The Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor from Back to the Future 2.