Azara Blog: Cambridge city plastic bottle recycling

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Date published: 2006/12/09

The latest "Cambridge Matters", the Cambridge City council blurb on recycling, drops through the letter box. They obviously feel compelled to distribute a pre-Christmas edition to remind us that Christmas cards, packaging and (real) trees can be recycled. Thanks, we didn't know that.

They do have one interesting article this time around, stating that the city is no longer shipping its plastic bottles to China for "recycling" but instead dealing with these in the UK. That is a step forward. Unfortunately they give no numbers to tell us whether this recycling is a good idea or not. In particular they do not specify how much energy is consumed during the entire recycling process.

Apparently the entire recycling process is:

  1. pick up the bottles on the doorstep and bring them to a facility in Waterbeach
  2. crush the bottles into bales and then transport them to a facility in Loughborough
  3. tip them onto a vibrating mesh so that small bits of junk are discarded
  4. separate them by type on a conveyor belt using clever sensors and "powerful jets of air" (the stuff that is not of the right type is "disposed of")
  5. chop them into tiny bits
  6. put them through a "dry washing process where the labels are rubbed off and sucked away by a gentle vacuum"
  7. melt the tiny bits into pellets

These are all additional costs (in particular, additional energy consumed) to what would be incurred from just throwing the bottles in the ordinary trash. So even the first step is an additional cost because they have a special pick-up just for the plastic bottles. Of course there are two savings: a bit less landfill is being used and the plastic does not have to be made from scratch.

So is this entire process a net benefit to the environment? It might well be but the city does not want to let us know. We are all just supposed to accept the propaganda of the ruling elite that recycling by the state at an industrial level is better than landfill.

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