Sustainability is the ability to sustain something forever. If you crop trees for wood, you should be able to take out the same amount of wood every year forever. Our world changes continually but over hundreds of thousands of years. Sustainability should be measured over similar time frames. Instead of talking about sustainability as recycling something for a second use, we need to look at hundreds or thousands of uses.
Part of sustaining our current lifestyle is the move toward recycling. There is a lot of misdirection about recycling. Misdirection is a polite term for lies. Manufacturers want to increase profit by replacing regular materials with cheap plastic plus they know plastic will wear out faster and force people to buy replacements every year instead of every ten years, increasing profits again. As an example of deliberate waste, the Apple iPod where you cannot replace the battery.
The manufacturers tell us lies about the products being easier to recycle because they are made of rubbish plastic. Plastic is harder to recycle than steel, aluminium, or glass, and most plastics can only be recycled a few times instead of many.
If a product works for ten years instead on one, the product is ten times better. Compare some Ford cars with Volvos. I drove two new Ford cars as company cars and both needed significant repairs in their first year with one requiring many repairs. I owned a Volvo for ten years and in the whole ten years used only a few replacement parts, about the same as one Ford used in the first year and about the same as the other Ford used in the first month. The Volvo was ten times better for the environment than the best of the Fords and 120 times better then the other Ford.
Using the right materials for long term use is primary conservation of resources.
We conserve resources by choosing products that last a long time without repairs. The Fords had undersized batteries that broke when trying to start the car in cold weather. The Volvo had a slightly larger battery sufficient to start the car in cold weather. The Volvo battery might be 20 percent larger at the start but it lasted five years instead of one year. If we take the Ford battery as a base measurement of 1.0, the Fords each needed 5.0 units of resources while the Volvo used only 1.2, a resource saving of 86 percent.
We conserve resources by choosing products that can be maintained for a long time with minimal repairs. One of the Fords required several engine replacements because design faults made the engine fail and the replacement engines had exactly the same faults. The other Ford had an engine that was ready for replacement when I stopped driving the car at 120,000 kilometres (70,000 miles). I drive the Volvo for 250,000 kilometres (150,000 miles) and there was no sign of wear in the engine. The Volvo required only the replacement of a small number of engine parts (timing belt etc) on a regular schedule to keep the engine going. The mechanic said the engine was good for 500,000 kilometres (300,000 miles) or more without an engine replacement and his Volvo (the same model) was already past 500,000 kilometres without engine problems.
About one percent of the Volvo engine was replaced each year to recycle the engine as new for another year. Over 20 years I would have completed 500,000 and used 1.2 units of resources counting from the original engine. By comparison, one of the Fords would have used 3.0 units of resources because of engine replacement and the other Ford about 50.0 units of resources.
You can recycle a wooden house by regular painting or oiling of the wood. You can recycle many things by choosing quality at the start and following a maintenance procedure. Maintaining your possessions is primary recycling.
Here are common examples of reuse. You will spot many more across a typical day.
You use newspaper pages to wrap vegetable scraps instead of buying plastic wrap. Assuming you are buying the newspaper to read, reusing newspaper for something else use a good reuse. Some people reuse newspaper as cleaning cloths instead of buying roles of paper towels. Paper can easily have two or three reuses before recycling in other ways. I used to work in an office where large reports were printed on one side of the paper and a copy was printed for each reviewer, perhaps five copies for five people. I changed it to printing one copy then distributing the reports by chapter so one copy could be reviewed by five people at once. After use for review and markup, the paper was handed to children for drawing on the other side. Finally the paper went into the paper recycling bin. Some times the paper would go from drawing to use in paper aeroplanes before flying into the recycling bin.
Milk cartons are reused as pots for young plants, pots that can be left on the plant when the plant is placed in the garden. Milk cartons are particularly good in areas where frost is a danger or the carton can protect the young plant against cold wind. The cartons eventually break down to create food for the plants.
Old t shirts make excellent cleaning cloths. They also make excellent bedding for young animals. I use old towels as cleaning cloths for a while then some are reused to wrap baby native animals rescued from accidents, eventually becoming their bedding.
Plastic food containers can store toys for years before dumping them in the plastic recycling bin.
There is a move in Australia to ban plastic shopping bags. Shops want to do it because they can then sell you plastic bags to line your bins. Instead of giving away the shopping bag for free, a 0.3 cent expense, they can sell you the same bags in a pack of 20 for $3.00, a 15 cent per bag profit. I currently use a mix of reusable shopping bags and the store provided single use bags so that I have enough single use bags to reuse in our kitchen bin.
The big supermarket chains will not be stopped by simple logic or efficient use, they are already removing bulk fruit and vegetables from their shelves and replacing them with stale old pre packed goods. Instead of paying $12 per kilogram for fresh salad, you pay $40 per kilogram for salad leaves that are already old by the time the leave the factory. The leaves are packed in bags that cannot be reused for anything and, in many cases, cannot be recycled. The shops want it because their profit is $34 per kilogram instead of $6. The massive waste of plastic is hidden by lies about not using plastic shopping bags. Some products are packed in trays before packing in plastic bags and the trays are often recyclable but are not easily reusable. They are so frail they cannot be used for seedling trays unless you are growing something in light weight peat moss.
Reuse is Secondary recycling.
You can reclaim manufactured materials for reuse as raw materials. When concrete is smashed up for disposal, some is crushed and added to new concrete as a filler. This form of recycling is rarely one hundred percent effective for recycling the component materials but uses less energy than trying to convert the manufactured material back to the raw components.
Large quantities of quality paper can be recycled as quality paper but a typical mixed load of paper and cardboard from a small office is too hard to sort. The mix can be shredded and reclaimed as packing material before eventually going into the recycling bin. When the mixture is recycled, it cannot be recycled as quality paper because of the mix of materials.
Reclaiming should be called partial recycling because the raw materials are not recycled for their original use. You always need a flow of some new material into the system.
Throwing things in the recycling bin for melting down into raw materials is last resort recycling. Steel tins and car parts become fresh new steel for making tins and car parts. Some plastics are recycled as new while others are recycled in a degraded form and others are burned or dumped.
The 100 percent recycling of glass and metals is good. The recycling of plastic as degraded material is bad. This is where the move to
recyclable plastic is pure fiction. You cannot tell how useful the recycling of plastic without knowing what type of plastic they use.
Some plastic is recycled only for bulk low quality use including filler material for plastic rubbish bins. The result cannot be recycled again. This single use and low use recycling is not sustainable. Manufacturers should not be allowed to claim their products are green just because the materials can be recycled one or twice. Green labels should go only on materials suitable for sustainable recycling.
The Mitsubishi I-MIEV costs $54,017, more than double the cost of my current car. The I-MIEV would have to save over $30,000 of petrol to break even on cost. Based on costs recorded by owners, I would save $15 on petrol which means the I-MIEV would have to last 40 years just to break even. Hybrid cars are a better deal and greener.
Many existing light fittings are designed for incandescent lightbulbs and are now fitted with LED lightbulbs or the older CFL, Compact Fluorescent Lights, or the versatile halogen alternatives. The physics of each light technology makes temperature a critical factor in life expectancy. What is the temperature in your light fitting?
Water efficiency is a hot topic in Australia given that most of Australia is a desert and the rest of Australia ran out of water 10 years ago. Our cities are now manufacturing water from seawater and sewerage. Our food industry is cut back dramatically to the point where Australia can no longer feed Australia. Our efficiency of water use is more important that our efficiency at energy usage.
Energy saving lights are in fashion. Fortunately the energy savers are now mass produced and competition has pushed the prices down to a usable level. Quality is still lacking, the claims on the packets are gross exaggerations, and they may not survive in your exisitng light fittings.
Today is my monthly clean up day where I recycle or throw out anything obsolete. Everything is becoming obsolete faster and is less recyclable despite all the green labels.
Remember when climate change researchers were after research money and predicted climate change would push sea levels up my 600 feet (180 metres)? Then it became 60 feet (18 metres) then the Australian media switched to 3 metres (10 feet). Now it is 0.003 metres per year (0.1 inches).
Solar power is the leading renewable energy source for sunny countries including Australia and Spain. Wind is the big competitor in less sunny locations including Scandinavia. what are the options for Solar and where is the future?
Petrol or Diesel? It should be a simple answer to a simple question. Unfortunately there is no one place for the answer. Here are the facts I can find.
The proposed new Australian federal carbon tax is CRUD. Australians are protesting against the lack of government action against climate change and against this ridiculous new money raising tax that does nothing to fight climate change, will encourage a lot of people to waste energy, and is distracting people from climate change action.
Jerry Yudelson, PE, MS, MBA, LEED AP, lives in the Sonoran Desert and knows a lot about water conservation. Dry Run is his latest book and covers building sustainable water supplies for cities. Well worth a read if you live anywhere outside of rain drenched tropical areas.