Many of us probably take recycling form granted these days. Certainly most people living in more urbanised environments have had the second bin or perhaps a tub earlier on for decades now. Nonetheless there is still some scepticism about recycling and what happens to that material. Every now and then, I still get a comment like, ‘but it all just ends up in landfill doesn’t it?’
In Victoria, it certainly does not end up in landfill. But it has also become a lot harder in recent times to do any of that processing locally. The viability of the recycling and reprocessing small business sector is like all other small businesses in regional Australia. The result is that we now tend to send larger volumes of co-mingled recycling into cities like Melbourne for processing. But is does get processed and transformed into new raw materials for other products.
All of this is essentially turning these products back into materials that can be re-used in manufacturing processes all over again. Materials such as plastics, paper, metals and glass all have the capacity to be used numerous times over and ideally our design systems for products should be incorporating the use of these types of materials where possible.
Many people might remember when recycled paper was a novelty in the office. Most paper today is made, at least from partially recycled product rather than virgin wood. Steel, copper and a variety of other metals can all be taken back to their original form and re-used without the necessity of having to dig more metal out of the ground all of the time.
Of course if you are going to return these materials to the something approaching he original raw material product then the price needs to compete on the global market for those resources. Thus, while the price of iron ore was high, so was the price of scrap metal, making it a far more attractive recycling prospect. Conversely, when the price is low, the viability of scrap metal recycling is also more problematic.
The challenge for us all to think about these resources in a different light. That’s right, they are resources, not waste, garbage or rubbish. The sooner we think of them in that way, the sooner we will end up with a manufacturing sector that is able to utilise good cradle to grave to cradle systems design and the less resources that will go to landfill.