The state of recycling in the US worries me. Not that people aren’t trying to recycle; that they might just stop bothering to recycle.
Why would they do that? Because news sources like Treehugger are telling people that a lot of recycled products don’t actually get recycled, because containers are missing caps, because paper is coated with wax or plastic products or food-related grease, because plastic grocery bags marked for recycling only clog up the sorting equipment, because the recycling numbers don’t actually determine what gets recycled, and because quite a bit of those items intended for recycling actually end up in landfills anyway, either in this country or in countries we ship it to (some of which have even stopped accepting our trash as too much to handle, so we can’t even get rid of it through selling it to others).
The fact is, our recycling system is woefully inefficient, and a lot of waste is being lost or landfilled. And I worry that, if more Americans realize this, they’ll stop separating trash and just pitch everything in their landfill-destined trash cans. And as landfills produce a lot of greenhouse gasses, we can’t afford to grow them.
We need a way to improve our trash system across the board, both landfill material and recyclables. Fortunately, there is a way to better dispose of both: Plasma Arc Gasification.
Plasma arc gasification involves heating waste to super-high temperatures. More than simply burning the waste, the high heat of a plasma arc creates so much heat that solids, liquids and recycling products literally vaporize, producing a syngas mixture that can be burned to create energy, and a glassy aggregate that can be used to create building materials, road surfaces and other fillers.
The plasma arc system would convert all US waste products into building materials and road materials that we can use right now for rebuilding our infrastructure, as well as producing a cleaner fuel to burn for energy, or combine with other gases or compounds. It would not be a burden for other countries to landfill, unless we wanted to sell those materials and gases to other countries, thus making the US money. We could also sell the plasma arc technology to other countries, thereby reducing landfills worldwide. We may even be able to start digging up our landfills and taking the trash to the plasma arc facilities, reclaiming lands that can be recovered or reused.
Placing plasma arc facilities placed near all major cities and throughout the nation could take care of our trash almost totally, taking the load off of landfills and even reducing our recycling content so we won’t be worrying about what’s not being recovered properly. It isn’t cheap technology, but it beats growing landfills and the increased pollution that affects everybody. And if more facilities results in technology simplification, we may see smaller and cheaper local facilities—and someday, maybe, even small units for home use—improving our trash disposal even more effectively.
We should also be rebuilding our recycling systems to be able to better recycle materials, especially the materials that put an undue strain on our existing processes. Paper processing systems should be able to handle paper impurities like grease, and plastic processing shouldn’t get clogged by thin plastic bags. But for whatever products recycling systems can’t handle, plasma arc facilities should be vaporizing the rest.
But we’re on a deadline: If the public catches on that we’re not properly recycling, and throwing even more into landfills anyway, they may stop separating their trash and start throwing all of their trash into the same hole. And we can’t afford that slide backwards, until we’re ready to properly deal with it.