This was an excellent experiential learning trip to SIMS Municipal Recycling Facility. Their Education Center has many outstanding visual and interactive displays for people of all ages!
The presentation and Q’n’A session we had with Deenie was ensightful and really catapulted an understanding of the logistics of recyling, the facility, and so much more.
Class Question :
#3) What specific opportunities did you identify during the SIMS trip, which Products of Design students and alumni might be able to help tackle? What intrigues you about these opportunities and why might designers be uniquely able to help address these opportunities?
The tour helped me gain a deeper understanding into the process of recycling beyond the romantic notion that it’s good for the ecological environment. The visual and interactive displays in the education area effectively conveyed the procedures used to process our discarded objects in this high-tech facility. Deenie provided further details about the cause and effect of our actions as it relates to the facility and logistics of recycling with her vast knowledge base.
The trip clarified some suspicions I had about recycling glass and poses a common misconception that needs to be updated- it required more resources to process used glass than it does to make new glass. For example, unbroken glass containers would need to be transported to the facility, pass through two miles of conveyor-belt sorting machinery, be rinsed clean with hot water (detergents?), and transported to the furnace for melting before they could be introduced as new containers. (I was surprised to learn that broken glass poses a serious safety threat to the employees at the facility). It may also be commonly misunderstood that plastic bags are difficult to sort, clog the machinery, are not in demand, and are an overall nuisance.
Recycling is a business that has profit in mind even if it’s a long term return. If there is no demand or use for recycled glass or plastic bags, a surplus supply is created, the value drops, and in a worst case scenario the supply becomes a financial burden that must be offset by the sale of other recyclables. This doesn’t make sense because resources include both ecologic and economic means. As designers we can create uses for these two materials in order to justify their collection and processing. We can also raise public awareness as to how they are processed or discourage consumption of them in the first place.
By panning out from the logistical concerns of the recycling facility and the unpopular or low demand materials, there is gap in the collection- organic waste including biodegradable plastics will end up in a landfill if the pickup and transport companies don’t have a vendor that collects them. Around five years ago, the city of Minneapolis began collecting organic waste because of two major factors; residents were willing to participate and a facility had been created to manage the supply of organic waste. If there is enough participation, or specifically enough mass of waste, then it becomes an advantage to collect but if there is no system that utilizes it, then the whole structure falls short of a proper cycle. This cycle all depends on supply and demand. Our efforts can be applied to engage people to participate in the existing structures of proper recycling, to create new objects from low-demand materials to offset the over supply, to change the supply at the beginning of the cycle by introducing different materials that are commomly sought after, and we can design alternatives that use less resources.
One takeaway or ‘actNow’ opportunity is to design an alternative to the PETE 1 plastic containers for fresh fruits. During the lecture, Deenie said it was an unwanted product(I think because of the optical scanner). Adhering to the Pomodoro Technique, a quick research concludes that ≈60% of PETE is used in synthetic fibers (polyester), bottle production at ≈30% the global production and its highly effective to recycle and for thermal disposal/ incineration. So why does it present a problem for facilities like SIMS to process? I will have to inquire to understand exactly why and think of a solution. . . . . TBD
PETE 1 (aka. PET, Polyethylene terephthalate)
I collected 4 of these containers after my weekly trip to the grocery store. Bulking up on strawberrys didn’t make me feel so good when it can time to trash the containers.