The Secret Life of Garbage
I was recently sent a fantastic infographic called "The Secret Life of Garbage" which explains what happens in the end to end process of garbage collection, recycling and disposal. I've embedded the infographic below.
Co-incidentally I've just finished an assignment with a waste management client so I thought I'd share a few insights into the process.
- Recycling does happen (and it's big business). I had a feeling that recycling was a myth and that everything got tipped into a big hole in the ground, but as landfill is so expensive it's in the best interests of the waste management company to recycle as much as they can.
- Although there is some automation the recycling process still remains highly manual with staff required to sort recyclables into categories. How manual? One of the staff members had no fingerprints as they had been worn away...
- Almost anything can be recycled. Plastics, glass, paper, cars, scrap metal, plastic bags, commercial food waste, liquid waste, hazardous waste, oily rags! It's recycled and sold.
- The next big push is to recycle domestic food waste (combining with domestic green waste). This will be big business as it makes for lovely fertiliser. If it hasn't come your way already it will soon. So if you can't be bothered separating your food scraps it's time to buy a waste disposal unit!
- Garbage trucks really go through the wringer - a lot of the expense is in truck maintenance, repairs and tyres (which need replacing every 6 weeks @ $1,000 a tyre!)
- Paper, plastics and glass are recycled by companies like Visy and Amcor and become products on the supermarket shelves again. Plastic bags are also recycled contrary to poular myth.
- Even "contaminated" (dirty) items gan be recycled, but it's a more costly process.
- Garbage trucks have sophisticated data capture - every bin lift is captured on video and timings measured. Truck speed down to every bin lift is captured. This gives a huge amount of data for analysis purposes.
- Costing new routes requires experience - the terrain, street layouts and distances all define the profitability of routes.
As a "process person" recycling makes perfect sense to me and since I've worked in the industry I've become a recycling zealot! The one main lesson I've learned from my experiences is that nothing is garbage - if we think enough about it we can find a way to re-use or recycle anything.