Archives for recycling



How Dirty Diapers End Up in the Recyling Bin

While it is true that human waste can indeed be recycled — as a medical “transpoosion,” as auto fuel, as heat for your home — that is not what’s happening in Portland, Oregon. People are indeed placing human waste in Portland’s recycling bins — in the form of baby diapers — but not because they want are recycling nuts. They just want to get rid of it, but the city has made trash pickup less frequent:

“It started when the city went to every other week garbage pickup,” said Far West Fibers President Keith Ristau. “Prior to that you’d get a dirty diaper maybe once a month. Now we get 60 pounds per shift. It’s not pretty.”

When the city of Portland launched its curbside composting program in October 2011, it simultaneously reduced trash pickups from once a week to once every two weeks. But recycling and compost bins are still emptied weekly.

(HT: Scott Hendricks)



Good Intentions and Recycling Fraud

A recent Freakonomics radio podcast focused on the unintended consequences of bounties. Here’s another great example: California’s recycling redemption program no doubt seemed like a great idea when it was initiated, but an L.A. Times article suggests the system is being gamed. Last year, it appears that nearly 100 percent of recyclable cans sold in California were returned, and 104 percent (!) of plastic containers:

Crafty entrepreneurs are driving semi-trailers full of cans from Nevada or Arizona, which don’t have deposit laws, across the border and transforming their cargo into truckfuls of nickels. In addition, recyclers inside the state are claiming redemptions for the same containers several times over, or for containers that never existed.

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The Truth Is Out There…Isn’t It?

Season 3, Episode 3

Until not so long ago, chicken feet were essentially waste material.  Now they provide enough money to keep U.S. chicken producers in the black — by exporting 300,000 metric tons of chicken “paws” to China and Hong Kong each year. In the first part of this hour-long episode of Freakonomics Radio, host Stephen Dubner explores this and other examples of weird recycling. We hear the story of a Cleveland non-profit called MedWish, which ships unused or outdated hospital equipment to hospitals in poor countries around the world. We also hear Intellectual Ventures founder Nathan Myhrvold describe a new nuclear-power reactor that runs on radioactive waste. Read More »



Recycling for Songs

Reader Peter Danza tipped us off to the way Sweden is trying to incentivize its citizens to return bottles. The reward: free music:

Sweden has a deposit bottle system similar to many other countries – plastic bottles and metal cans carry a deposit value (“pant” in Swedish) of usually 1 or 2 Swedish crowns, equal to about 15 to 25 US cents. This system should take care of itself: Most consumers should return their bottles (to retrieve their money back), and if they carelessly throw them away, there are a whole lot of poorer people who gladly look for bottles in the trash. That’s exactly how it works in Germany. (In fact, when you go out at night with a beer bottle and you’ve emptied it, you’re usually nice enough to put it next to a trash can rather than inside.)

That same system seems to be facing troubles in Sweden, however. So much so that now the bottle deposit organisation Pantamera commenced a campaign to promote returning bottles: If you return a bottle, take a photo of the receipt and send it to their website, you will receive free songs by a well known Swedish DJ.



Is Eyeglass Recycling a Waste of Money?

Recycling your old eyeglasses may make you feel better, but, in Bloomberg View, Virginia Postrel argues that it’s actually a waste of money.  Postrel tracks the journey from eyeglass donation box to final destination — glasses are first shipped to their destination, where they’re sorted and evaluated for usefulness (only 7 per cent of donations are actually useable).  The numbers aren’t pretty. Read More »



A New Kind of Toilet Paper

Our podcast “The Power of Poop” explored a variety of uses of human waste, including fecal bacteriotherapy (or a “transpoosion”), a poop-powered car, and homes heated with human waste

Now there’s another use. From Israel’s Ynetnews:

Dr. Refael Aharon of Applied CleanTech has developed a system capable of turning stinking sewage into a renewable and profitable source of energy. How?

About 99.9% of the drainage which comes out of our homes and flows through pipes is water. The remaining 10% are comprised of solid substances which can be used for the production of cellulose, which is used to produce paper.

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Question of the Day: What Boomerangs in Value?

Our latest podcast, “Weird Recycling,” is about the unlikely reuse of cast-off items. A reader named Gavin Castleton just happened to write in with an appealing riddle in the same vein:

Has there ever been a good/product whose value was reduced to zero, but somehow rose again? If so, could you shed any light on the market dynamics or social catalysts that revived it?

To put my question in context: I’m researching the music industry’s rocky transition from goods to services (download/physical goods to streaming music subscription services). Journalists, industry folk, and consumers are all quite fond of declaring “Music will be free. It’s obvious and inevitable.” But I started to wonder if it really was all that inevitable. So I started looking for other examples of a product that lost its monetary value completely, but somehow returned from the dead.

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Here’s What a Lunch of Chicken Feet Looks Like

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Weird Recycling,” included a field trip to Golden Unicorn in New York’s Chinatown to eat some chicken feet. Our guest was Carlos Ayala of Perdue Farms. Ayala told us that the export of chicken feet, primarily to China and Hong Kong, is such a big part of Perdue’s business that the firm might be in trouble if that export market didn’t exist. Here are some snaps from Ayala and Stephen Dubner‘s chicken-feet lunch at Golden Unicorn. Read More »