GOOD
Magda Ehlers

When you put your plastic cup into the recycling bin, you probably think it's headed to a nearby facility where it'll be broken down and then turned into another cup which you will eventually put into the recycling bin. But the process of recycling isn't as clean as we thought. Only 9.1% of plastics in the U.S. are recycled, and our recycling infrastructure is overwhelmed by that amount. Some recyclable plastic is sent to our landfills, while other recyclable plastic – one million tons, to be exact – are sent overseas. Yes, we're exporting trash.

In 2019, Waste Management, the U.S.'s largest trash hauler, said it sent almost one-quarter of its plastic recyclables overseas. Now, they've ended the practice, altogether. "In response to concerns about plastic in the environment, Waste Management is not shipping plastics collected on its residential recycling routes and processed in its single stream material recovery facilities to locations outside North America. The company is working to help establish responsible domestic markets for recycling and beneficial use of these materials," Waste Management said in a statement.

The change is a response to a recent outcry against the mess. Our plastics were out of sight, out of mind, until reports came in that wealthier countries were shipping low-grade recyclables to other, poorer countries.

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The Planet
via psyberartist / flickr and Kārlis Dambrāns / flickr

Americans throw away enough glass every week to fill a 1,350-foot building. Glass takes up to a million years to completely decompose in a landfill, but it's easy to recycle, so there's no reason we should ever have to make anymore glass. We already have enough.

But, sadly, that's not how the world works.

When we do recycle glass it does far more good that most people consider. Recycling one ton of glass saves the following:


  • 42 kWh of electricity
  • 5 gallons of oil714.3 Btu's of energy
  • 2 cubic yards of landfill space
  • 7.5 pounds of air pollutants from being released
  • 1,330 pounds of sand.

Researchers have found a brilliant way to reuse glass that not only saves energy by being recylced, but actually generates power. They have figured out how to take used glass bottles and transform them into high-performance lithium-ion batteries — the kind that could power an electric car.

via UC Riverside

Not only are the batteries eco-friendly, but they are powerful as well. The researchers found a way to make them last longer and provide more electricity batteries by using silicon anodes — an electrode through which the current enters into an electrical device — instead of traditional graphite.

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"Today graphite is used as the main commercial material for fabricating the anode electrodes," Cengiz Ozkan, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Riverside explained.

"We replaced graphite in the anodes with our new nanosilicon material derived from waste glass bottles," he continued. "In the half-cell configuration, our batteries demonstrate performance about four times higher compared to graphite anode batteries."
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering used a three-step process to use a discarded glass bottle into lithium-ion batteries.

First, they rushing and grinding the glass bottles into a fine white powder. Second, they used hot magnesium to reduce to the silicon dioxide into nanostructured silicon. Finally, they coated the silicon nanoparticles with carbon to improve their stability and energy storage properties.

"We started with a waste product that was headed for the landfill and created batteries that stored more energy, charged faster, and were more stable than commercial coin cell batteries. Hence, we have very promising candidates for next-generation lithium-ion batteries," Changling Li, a graduate student in materials science and engineering and lead author on the paper, said.

This isn't the researchers' first attempts to create batteries out of alternative materials.

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"In the past, we have demonstrated lithium-ion battery anodes fabricated using bio-mass (mushrooms), beach sand, and diatom fossils as nature-abundant precursor materials," Mihri Ozkan, a professor of electrical engineering, told Design News.

"Such natural resources can help reduce the cost of lithium-ion batteries, as well as minimize the carbon footprint from graphite-based anodes in lithium-ion batteries," she continued.

The researchers at UC Riverside may be working on some great advancements in the field of mechanical engineering, but their work also points to an important fact we should all understand. When we throw away "disposable" material such as glass or aluminum we should never forget that we are discarding something with enormous potential.

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Photo by Gareth Fuller - WPA Pool/Getty Images

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In 1999, Algalita founder Captain Charles Moore put his small California environmental nonprofit on the map when he was the first to sample the surface waters of what is now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Since then, the California-based organization has dedicated itself to research and education about plastic pollution in the waterways with the belief that they can solve the problem with the right public outreach and in collaboration with other organizations and scientists. Considering that over 80 percent of marine debris originates from sources on land, there’s no time to waste.

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