Wednesday February 14, 2007

Recycling triple cans

triple compartment trashcan Rebecca hung out on South Beach over Superbowl weekend, and was appalled by the trash:

Several companies were giving out free drinks on Ocean Drive – bottles of water, energy drinks, etc. . . . But come on – not enough trash cans and no recycling? If you allow these companies to set up on the street and hand out products, require them to have recycling bins and a plan to get them recycled!

It’s a great point. But there’s another question worth asking: why aren’t recycling cans ubiquitous here? Look at that can above. It’s like a regular garbage can from the side, but inside it’s divided up into three compartments, each with its own bag: paper, plastic, and everything else. Cans like this are all over Europe, and they work.

We’ve gotten pretty lax about recycling in general, eh? I mean, the county is planning to get rid of curbside recycling. On the other hand, there’s a sea change happening in the country about global warming, and maybe there’ll be some spillover effect and our fair leaders will reawaken to the benefits of recycling. I say let’s get the triple cans in high-traffic pedestrian zones like South Beach, and incorporate it into Miami 21.

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  1. dreaming    Wed Feb 14, 09:06 AM #  

    the cans given out on south beach were the least of the trash, actually. the worst offenders were the people handing out party postcards or whatever they are called. huge stacks of glossy paper, handed out and immediately thrown to the ground. ocean drive looked like a paper blizzard. and really that was the only trash i saw, but it was a lot. the practice should be banned. its ineffective and messy.

  2. Jonathan    Wed Feb 14, 10:37 AM #  

    More trash cans might be a good idea. The benefits are obvious. But recycling is religion. People do it on faith without evidence that it has net benefits rather than net costs. If the benefits exceeded the costs businesses would have an incentive to do it on their own. In reality it is like baseball stadiums — local govt says it has all kinds of benefits but still has to subsidize it. Economically productive activities generally do not require subsidies.

    Oh yeah, global warming. The only “sea change” is political. The cause, magnitude, cost and remedy for GW are still highly uncertain. The current worldwide PR campaign is an intellectually fraudulent appeal to authority, with people who ask too many questions demonized. Science and other forms of rational investigation don’t work that way. But then the GW crusade isn’t mainly about truth, it’s a power grab.

  3. Duran    Wed Feb 14, 10:44 AM #  

    Alesh you are asking for our local government to think logically for a change, and we all know that’s asking too much.

    Also, I truly believe recycling needs to be ingrained into our culture/lifestyle. I’ve seen county-provided recycling bins used as planters, storage, etc. So even if the means are there, if no one uses them, what’s the point. Aggressive campaigning needs to be done, but that costs money that commissioners need to pay their luxury cars with.

  4. alesh    Wed Feb 14, 02:02 PM #  

    Jonathan~ Give it a rest. At this point, the GW doubters are looking worse then folks claiming the earth is flat. Even GWB has had to drop the crap about there being doubt that people are causing global warming. Be serious!

    I don’t think trash on the ground on SoBe is that big a deal, BTW. There’s folks that come around and clean everything up every morning, and life goes on.

    BTW, recycling is profitable when the levels of participation and the volume are high. We have some re-educating to do.

  5. John    Wed Feb 14, 02:29 PM #  

    Actually, I would suggest everyone check out the series “Bullshit” created by Penn and Teller that airs on Showtime. The dvds for the first two seasons are also available. They do a great job of examining topics from a skeptics standpoint, and recycling is one of the topics they take on. I can’t agree with Jonathan on Global Warming, but it does seem that recycling is not all its cracked up to be. It takes A TON of energy to do, and doesn’t seem that it will ever be profitable. Not for anything but aluminum at least. Everything else requires too much manpower, infrastructure, and energy to work.

    I do agree about the idea of it needing to be cost effective. That’s why in 100 years or so, our truly nasty waste (radioactive, etc.) will be shot into the vast reaches of space rather than buried here. But for now, there’s no money to be made.

  6. Jonathan    Wed Feb 14, 02:51 PM #  

    Why should I give it a rest? There’s a great deal of uncertainty about GW, its cause(s) and its consequences, and these are not the kinds of questions that can be answered by creating a political consensus. Any remedies, at the current stage of our knowledge, will be terrifically expensive and possibly not effective. And even if the remedies are effective, good luck getting the developing countries that produce much of the greenhouse gas to implement them. These are all issues worthy of more research and discussion. Instead, the response to thoughtful skepticism about GW often is, “It’s a settled issue, no more debate allowed!” And this kind of response comes too often from people who are always alarmed about something and are always wrong. So I will continue to be skeptical.

    WRT recycling, haven’t we been educated and even indoctrinated on this topic for many years? Why would additional indoctrination be effective? I think that a lot of people probably see recycling as environmentalist theater that doesn’t do much good in the scheme of things. And while they go along with it to some extent, to avoid harassment, they aren’t likely to increase their participation. Why should they? These programs are net consumers of resources. Otherwise someone would be running them at a profit and we wouldn’t even see recycling as an issue.

    Burying stuff like newspapers and bottles in the ground consumes fewer resources than does recycling them. The materials that it makes sense to recycle are already being recycled by businesses. No one ever says that the County should set up a program for recycling copper tubing or automobile bodies, because those things are valuable enough that it already makes sense to recycle them. Recycling the other stuff is wasteful.

  7. Guv    Wed Feb 14, 04:15 PM #  

    Any big crowd generates trash. I was impressed that early in the evening on Friday the City of MB already had broom crews out to keep up with the flyer-and-beer-cup-dropping crowds.

    As for recycling: Leaving out the debatable question of efficiency and the impact on temps, I like the idea of recycling the same way I like the idea of redeveloping old buildings with character rather than razing them to build brand-new structures. Even if it’s more expensive to save the old thing… Using old bottles to make new bottles = less total junk hanging around.

  8. dreaming    Wed Feb 14, 07:51 PM #  

    the sobe crowd didnt really generate much of any trash. people cant be blamed for throwing away postcards they never asked for. even if its cleaned up, the trash really isnt useful in the first place, so why create it? it wastes paper and ink and all the resources used to create it. if recyling is so important, it starts with not creating as much junk in the first place.

  9. alesh    Wed Feb 14, 08:40 PM #  

    dreaming~ check out the waste hierarchy pyramid on the waste management wikipedia — of the six levels, recycling is 4th. (in other words, you’re exactly right, but when PK Graphics will print 5000 beautiful glossy 2-sided flyers for you for a couple of hundred bucks . . . well you know.

    jonathan~ i’m not going to humor you by getting into it with you on global warming. If ever there was a final nail in the coffin, maybe it’s this. Also, the last time we got into GW, Henry directed me to a Right-wingnut radio interview with an alleged “real climatologist, not like most of the people talking about global warming.” I listened to it and I have to tell you that on the few occasions when he got into territory that I knew something about (like simple logic) he said such intellectually dishonest shit that it made it obvious he was a str8up political shill.

  10. Jonathan    Wed Feb 14, 10:17 PM #  

    You’re not going to humor me but you will sort-of humor me? OK. I’m not going to get between you and Henry, and I didn’t listen to the radio interview you mention, which seems like a red herring. WRT the IPCC report, the newspapers are working from the summary. The Report itself is a long, complex thing. I didn’t read it and couldn’t evaluate it anyway. What I do know is this:

    -The GW projections are based on complex models with many variables and assumptions. There’s a lot of variability in the predictions the different models make. In many if not all cases the predictions made by individual models change a lot if you change the assumptions.

    -The models and their results have been changing for years.

    -The models make predictions going far into the future.

    -In general, long-term predictions of the behavior of complex systems, where such predictions are generated by complex models with lots of variables and assumptions, and lots of uncertainty about the values of the variables and assumptions, are almost always wrong and often dramatically wrong. What would you say about someone who claimed to be able to predict securities prices with 2% accuracy, 100 years out? How are GW models different?

    -Even if the most extreme predictions made by the GW models are accurate, it isn’t obvious that GW will be harmful and not, on balance beneficial. In particular, a 0.5M avg increase in sea level over a 100-year period does not seem like something that cannot be gradually compensated for without excessive difficulty or cost. Meanwhile, increased temperatures would increase the amount of arable land and land available for people to live, and would make it easier to grow food (as would increased atmospheric CO2).

    -Human activity is only one of several contributors to GW. There are also volcanoes, animals, solar cycles and for all I know additional factors. Most of these things are out of our control.

    -Even if the most extreme GW predictions are accurate, it’s not clear that the proposed remedies would be effective. It is clear that these proposals would be extremely expensive to implement, and that they would suppress living standards, particularly in the developing world, and thereby kill a lot of people (or shorten their life expectancies, which is the same thing).

    -In the far future we will be a lot richer and more knowledgeable, and thus better able to diagnose and remedy climatological problems, than we are now. It is reasonable to ask whether we might do better to invest our resources in productive enterprise now, so that we can increase our wealth as much as possible for the purpose (among others) of dealing with future problems, rather than cripple our economic development in order to buy the inferior GW remedies that are available today.

    -If the case for “doing something now” about GW is strong, why do so many prominent advocates resort to demagogic arguments? Why are they shrill in condemning the motives of skeptics? Why is it important to declare the case closed? Why are so many of the advocates people who have a history of alarmism?

  11. Rick    Wed Feb 14, 10:56 PM #  

    Wow. If verboseness means anything at all, I think Alesh just got his ass handed to him.


  12. alesh    Thu Feb 15, 07:43 AM #  

    Yes, if it meant that, Rick. I think what we have is a dude picking nits with trees and missing the forest he’s in. Here’s one of Jonathan’s points:

    -Human activity is only one of several contributors to GW. There are also volcanoes, animals, solar cycles and for all I know additional factors. Most of these things are out of our control.

    Seriously Jonathan? You can’t think of an answer to this?

  13. Jonathan    Thu Feb 15, 09:54 AM #  

    Alesh, how am I missing the forest? My whole point is that we don’t know enough to be confident that the big picture is what you think it is.

  14. alesh    Thu Feb 15, 10:26 AM #  

    Ha! The whole “it’s such a complicated issue and we can’t possibly understand it” dodge. Caution, Jonathan — this line is loosing credibility even among right-wing demagogues. For fun you can match your objections to points on this site. Let me know how you do.

  15. Jonathan    Thu Feb 15, 12:51 PM #  

    I don’t think we have enough information. The climate models have many variables and seek to make precise predictions for a very long time frame. This is inherently difficult to do with accuracy, since we don’t have thousands or at least hundreds of years of precise climatological data. It is like trying to predict where the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be in 100 years, based on only 100 years of data. You can make such predictions but there will be inevitably a high degree of uncertainty about their accuracy. Neither you nor Grist acknowledges the uncertainty. The Grist site seems to be more about fighting heresy than considering an empirical proposition. They beg the question by assuming the validity of their favorite GW theories. But these kinds of questions cannot be answered by consensus; they can only be resolved empirically.

    None of this would matter much if GW abatement were inexpensive, but there’s no question that serious anti-GW measures would cost at least a few percent of our GNP. This is an enormous amount of capital to remove from productive investment. Compounded over 50 or 100 years it would represent a colossal opportunity cost and a substantial long-term hit to our wealth. By spending big money on uncertain remedies now we make much less wealth available down the road, that might otherwise be available to solve the problem 1) if it really is a problem and 2) when we know more about how to solve it. The time/money/investment tradeoff here is extremely difficult. In the case of developing countries, because health and life expectancy correlate with wealth, reducing CO2 emissions may mean lower life expectancy in the future. I think it’s reckless to suggest that these tradeoffs are well understood, and it’s hubris to treat skeptics as troublemakers.

  16. alesh    Thu Feb 15, 01:12 PM #  

    It is like trying to predict where the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be in 100 years, based on only 100 years of data.

    No, it isn’t like that at all. Look, I’m sure you’re being very sincere, but other hardline GW skeptics who have looked into the issue have had to concede that GW is real, and that people are causing it.

  17. Jonathan    Fri Feb 16, 07:23 AM #  

    Why isn’t it like trying to make 100-year market predictions? Do you know of any 50-100-year predictions for complex systems that have turned out to be accurate within a range of results that is comparable to the one specified by GW predictions? I think skepticism is justified, and so do some climate scientists. Other climate scientists disagree, but so what? You can’t resolve this kind of question by taking a vote.

    The magnitude and effects GW are highly uncertain. The astronomical cost of attempting to mitigate GW at current levels of wealth and technology is not. Much more information is needed before it becomes reasonable for us to pay that cost.

  18. alesh    Fri Feb 16, 08:23 AM #  

    The people who understand this stuff disagree about the extent of the GW effect. But even the most conservative estimates are dire.

  19. Jonathan    Fri Feb 16, 05:10 PM #  

    A few degrees C increase over a century is dire? I hope that’s the most dire thing that happens in the world.