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Sunday, 03 October 2010


The Conversion Police report that 38 degrees F = 3.33 degrees C

Not to nitpick, but I think you meant to write 28 degrees. I'm not wishing for freezing weather where I am just yet, but I'd sure like those mosquitoes to be outta here.

On a more positive note, I just asked Santa for that 3-volume set of Bruce Davidson photos. I'll have to settle for the 2nd edition since the first has been sold out for a while. Thanks for the recommendation Mike.

Well, according to Times; in England at least..

"Household refuse that is being sent overseas for recycling is being dumped, burnt or strewn across the streets in less developed countries.

Britain exports about 12m tons of material for recycling as part of its environmental waste strategy, but a Sunday Times investigation has found some of these exports – known as “green list” – are being incinerated or dumped in pits."

My friend, 38F is nowhere near -2.2C... it's +3.3.
(but I'm glad it's cool enough to get rid of pesky bugs)
By the way, I've read of people who build bat "nests" to attract mosquitoes natural predators. That could be another project for you to procrastinate on.

"It was 38°F this morning when I got up (that's –2.2°C). "

As a European living part time in the USA I have to convert a lot - and 38°F is + 3.3°C! Still low enough to banish the mosquitos of course...
Freezing=32°F=0°C, and the exact conversion from °F to °C is (T-32)*5/9.

I think one of the best effects of recycling is that by putting yourself and your family into the mindset of recycling, you grow awareness to the whole issue.

So, even if, hypothetically, all the effort you put into separating out the plastics from the glass from the paper from the metals doesn't actually add up to making a difference in the end (in terms of energy expenditure, costs of recycling, etc), there's a good chance that you're already producing less trash to begin with, because the conscious people are always trying to figure out how to bring home less potential trash, like shopping bags.

Great post, Mike. It *does* matter.

If you do not throw your aluminum cans in the trash landfills will never become valuable aluminum mines.

"38°F this morning when I got up (that's –2.2°C)"... hmmm ;-) is that "new math" ? ;-)

if you are going to make an industry around recycled material, you need to have enough supply. even if some of what you separate out gets placed into the landfill, keep separating it. once enough of that recyclable material is available to sustain an industry, the industry will arise.

in georgia we have what is affectionately referred to as the 'gnat line'. above the line, somewhere south of macon, gnats are a seasonal nuisance. below that line, it's yearlong.

Yes, and I started recycling because I have friends who recycle. I was definitely influenced by the behavior of others.


"If you do not throw your aluminum cans in the trash landfills will never become valuable aluminum mines."

Oh, and here's another factoid I learned recently: although glass is *technically* just as recyclable as aluminum cans, in actual practice a far greater proportion of aluminum cans are actually recycled than glass bottles. So, it's best to buy your packaged drinks (beer and soda, etc.) in cans rather than bottles.


Have you ever heard of Cradle to Cradle? The people behind it would argue 'recycling' is actually 'downcycling', and that our waste is just slowing down on its way to a landfill. They suggest a way to properly recycle.

Here's a TED speech by one of the founders: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/william_mcdonough_on_cradle_to_cradle_design.html

Nike, Ford and other big companies are working with 'C2C', and hopefully one day it will take over the world.

I return all my beer bottles for the 5 cent refund, take newspaper/junkmail/cardboard/aluminum cans etc. down to the recycling center. Does it reduce my carbon footprint? Who knows. It may be that my driving stuff to the recycling center causes more pollution via my driving than just dumping EVERYTHING in my trash can, which is mostly empty when the trash haulers come to take what little I put in the trash.

the most important things to recycle are the electronic ones.

start with your batteries, first switch to rechargeable if you've not already - they work very well now - and second when you use non-rechargeable, or the rechargeable wear out take the used ones to a local Radio Shack, they will take them.

for your old computers, TV's, phones, etc. al. make sure you get them to a responsible recycling center.

recycling these heavy toxic items properly are much more important than any paper product.

and if given a choice always choose paper verses plastic :)


Seattle makes recycling easy. All recyclables go into one container (glass, paper, plastic, cardboard, etc.). All kitchen/food waste (veggies and meat) goes in with the yard and garden clippings to be turned into mulch for the city. What little is left - a container about the size of a large waste paper basket - goes to the land fill. Yes, recycling is a good thing.


Seattle is a pretty enlightened city. What country is that in again?


That is so much good news and so nice to know. Where I live, much of what goes in trash recycled but still there is much we all can do. Motivates me to dust the bicycle that hasn't seen the sun in last six months. Even better that the winter is here.

My town next door to Austin, TX just started a new program that puts all recycled material together in one big can for bi-weekly pickup. Makes it easy for me and it encourages one to recycle more.

I recommend that you add vermiposting to your recycling activities (vermiposting is composting with worms). It's odorless and creates some fantastic fertilizer, all while reducing the amount of crud going into your sink and your garbage can.

Your fishing friends will love you.

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by my friend Elizabeth Royte is a great book on what happens to the garbage in my county (Kings County A.K.A. Brooklyn NY)

It's an account of following her garbage to the landfill , which turns out to be a pretty involved and difficult thing to do. Pretty funny sometimes too. It's probably the most entertaining book about solid waste you will ever read.

You can read the beginning on Amazon's read it now.

She's also one of the frequently-appearing circus people in that 6500 Polaroid website that I maintain.


Great that you think of recycling. Its easy once you get used to it. A tip for the Amazon paper stuff: Cut it into small pieces and if you have a fireplace, use it for igniting fires - it works wonders!!

Or - in winter you can make them flat and put them under your footmats in the car. This sucks up the humidity quite well from snow.

all the best!


Just for fun, run an image search for "naples waste".
A terribly nice example of what happens when you run out of trust in the waste industry and thus run out of landfills...

When i got a crack in my windshield I had to have the whole thing replaced. The guy who replaced it confided to me that the windshield glass wasn't being recycled. They just throw the whole thing away but the crack was too big to be repaired and so the whole thing - at the cost of $800 -- was going to be swapped. The old one was just going into the trash. Sheesh.

It must be a weekend for recycling. I took a load of cardboard boxes to the recycling centre. My garage is filling up with boxes, mainly from photography purchases. As I unloaded, a lady pulled up behind me and asked if she could have them. So those boxes have been recycled, but not quite the way I intended. :-)

Math Quiz:

If we dumped all our trash (51,595 cubic yds
times 3,140 counties or 3,140 football fields
30ft high) into the Grand Canyon,how many
years before it fills up?

Sounds so odd to me that some people are just waking up to environmental issues, but I guess working in the field somewhat clouds your vision...
Want to try some real procrastination? Try a field trip to your local recycling facility or landfill. They usually offer public tours (especially for schools but general public ones as well). You'd be amazed at the quantity firsthand. But don't be surprised at the decidedly low-tech methodology that is the norm.
You've already mentioned the work of Burtynsky, getting back to photography. The frustrating aspect of any new landfill project is none of the technical stuff (e.g. engineering); it's always the approvals process, which can take years if not decades, even for relatively "small" scale projects (and this is at least for places that have an approvals process in place). The amazing thing about those Burtynsky photos is the sense of scale he includes, as usually all you see when you're at a waste site is the mass and it's hard to get a sense of scale for reference. Which you were able to do with your comparisons as technical writers are apt to do. I just think even writing about those comparisons go over the heads of those uninterested (or maybe they just don't care anyway so wouldn't want to think about anything other than what they can see directly for themselves). Hence my recommendation for the field trip.

Every week I put one or two little blue bags of "recycling" at the curb with the trash. Some time after the trash is collected another very large truck comes along. Vroom, Squeal. Vroom, Squeal. Vroom, Squeal. Every house gets a maximum effort GO followed by a maximum effort STOP. It's like an autocross out there.

Seems a little counterproductive.

It turns out that the cost of recycling is very dependent on the density of the material collected -- density in terms of how much stuff can be collected per truck mile. If people will put up with monthly collection instead of weekly, costs go down considerably.

I just put out my "garbage," i.e., recycling. I live in a jurisdiction where comprehensive recycling has been mandatory since 1994. I'm fairly certain we were the first in Canada to do this, if not North America. Residents and businesses must segregate into 5 streams: blue bag (plastic , glass, cans, etc.), paper (including box-board), organic (kitchen and yard waste), corrugated cardboard, and landfill (what's left). Landfill is often next to nothing. Twice a year they pick up large appliances and other metal items. If you visit here as a tourist, you will have to segregate.

At first it was just my small county: http://www.modl.ca/recycling_-_home/index.html Now it's the entire province. If we can do it with our small population and out-of-the-way location, it can be done anywhere, providing you have "peace, order, and good government."

Never gets quite cold enough to kill the mosquitoes here in Western Australia. Bites 365 days a year. And the golf course watering over the road makes sure there's always somewhere to hatch the things just a short buzz to my garden.

From an economic perspective, recycling makes sense when the cost of primary goods is much higher than buying the same material recycled. One way to ensure that happens is to capture the cost of pollution (or negative environmental impact, generally) in the cost of the primary goods. In other words, if a manufacturer deciding between buying recycled steel and new steel were faced with more expensive new steel because it was taxed to cover its environmental impact, he, or she, might well choose recycled steel. If enough did that demand would be higher and the price of recycled steel would rise, making recycling more economically viable for municipalities.

The hard part is how to add the environmental cost to the new goods. You can do it with taxes but that's very unpopular, especially with internationally traded goods. Another problem is how to assess the environmental impact in dollar terms and apply it? How do you get it right? What if it changes frequently as technology and usage change?

The difficulty of overcoming these challenges are just some of the reasons that recycling efforts have such varied financial success in different communities. Add in the vagaries of political control of such programs, incompetence, corruption, ideological opposition and NIMBYism and it's a wonder Waukesha is making a successful go of it.

Recycling is a little like creating the garbage in the first place. No one person does much by themselves, but it mounts up.

My less than charitable thoughts on the subject: http://roberts-rants.blogspot.com/2006/03/orbiting-garbage.html

I have a pile of cardboard like that next to my back door. Here in Milton Keynes we can recycle most things and my pile will be left out for the bin men when they call tomorrow morning. About all that goes in the black non-recycle bag is thin plastic wrappers.

Er, anyway... er, must get on...

I never put off today what I can put off tomorrow.

Well color me surprised that you did not already recycle.

Not buying certain things is much easier than recycling, and usually better for you. The whole Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra really makes sense. Don't even get my started on the silly amount of packaging that comes form Amazon, and they are better than most.

I once ordered 6 pairs of socks that came in a box that could have held 600 and it was filled with those damn air bags to keep my socks "safe" from damage.


I recall from my childhood how soda would come in returnable bottles, made of heavy-gauge glass. You'd return them to the market, and the bottler would take them back, clean them, refill and reuse them, bearing the costs involved (which would of course, be rolled into the price of the product).

Now, with "one-way" glass and plastic bottles, the producers and merchants have pushed those costs onto the customer (and, through trash disposal and municipal recycling, the taxpayer). Isn't corporate welfare fun?

Good point, Mike, about aluminum cans. Contrary to what some think, beer is not affected. There's at least one good microbrew in Colorado that has canned beer, Fat Tire.

There is also very good wines in boxes. The plastic bag inside has to be trashed, but a box equals 4 bottles.

Also: Last time I checked, Best Buy will take one electronic item per day for recycling. (Bought from anywhere.)


Are the point and shoots that people dump in the trash year after year, only to buy the latest point and shoot, recyclable? What about the DSLRs that need replacing every couple of years?

Looks like another reason to keep shooting that 50 year old Leica - better for the environment.

yeah for recycling, every little bit helps! By the way, are you going to do a column sometime on camera recycling?

At this moment I should be writing a permit for an MRF to operate here in the UK. It isn't the most exciting task in the world so I am procrastinating by reading your blog!

Primary vs. rechargeable batteries isn't that simple. NiMH rechargeables are not a good choice for emergency flashlights, for example -- they self-discharge fairly quickly just sitting there, and your flashlight would be dead in an emergency. They'd be a great choice for a flashlight you used every night on your police / security patrols, though.

I should probably try eneloops in my cordless mice and in remote controls, though.

Does anybody have a good source (that explains the reasoning!) for how many times you have to recharge a rechargeable to come out ahead compared to a primary battery (on "green" grounds, not just monye)?

I don't know, but that's not "all our trash" by a long shot. That's just the amount we recycle, which is a small percentage of the total we generate.


So far, I've been able to sell my DSLRs and P&S on ebay when I'm done with them, except the very first one which actually broke on me. So only one out of 4 (not counting current ones, since I don't know how those will end up) of mine needed disposal. AND the buyers paid me! This is why "reuse" is preferred to "recycling" :-) .

Love the internet. Here's some figures I
dug up.
USA generates 251 million tons trash yearly.
1 ton equals 3.33 cubic yards of trash.
Grand Canyon is 5.45 trillion cubic yards.
It would take 6,520 years to fill up the
Grand Canyon with our trash. Problem solved.
We have found the ultimate landfill. Of
course I'm being facetious. If that trash
ever caught fire, it would burn forever.
Thanks for your post. It made me think.
I'm glad that I'm recycling my trash

What type of owls?

If you can learn how to call like an owl, you could easily call one in to see him/her. Do the call first, wait for them to return your call and get close enough to see. Then turn on the light. I don't know which kind of owl you have, but most calls are pretty easy to learn.

One problem that can happen, however, is you can do calls to attract a small owl, and get a bigger one looking for dinner. Especially Great Horned Owls, which will eat almost anything. They love little Screech owls if they can catch them.


In a related report that affects us photographers, the Asahi newspaper here in Japan reported industry is doing more to extract rare-earth metals from refuse. The recent Chinese ban on exports following a dispute over several islands and a ship collision have caught everyone's attention. The effort does have an impact on the production of the cameras we like to use.

Correction: the article I mentioned was on the front page of the digital NYTimes, not the Asahi. Apologies for the confusion.



When I was in the Navy, my ship was at the base in San Diego for a few days. Lots of noise was made about using the correct dumpsters for the garbage, and that separating was mandatory.

Then the time came to pick it all up and all four dumpsters were emptied into the same truck.

I imagine that the garbage was sorted at a facility, but it was kind of silly to do it twice.

Automobile glass is recycled, it is ground up and used as a additive to pavement stripping paint, it makes it last longer and makes it reflect more light.


Mike, when I lived in Halifax Nova Scotia the city implemented a mandatory composting program for all organic matter (essentially yard and kitchen waste). I remember seeing news footage of the local landfill before and after the new program was put in place. Before showed a bulldozer pushing trash up a mountain of refuse while dozens of gulls and crows circled overhead and fought for pieces of "edible" garbage. After had the same bulldozer with a single crow, crowing about the slim pickings.

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