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Reassessing the "reuse" part of the 3 r's.  RSS feed

 
Rob Meyer
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This is a question that came up in the green building forum, and I thought I'd ask it here to get some more responses.

The mainstream "green" slogan is "reduce, reuse, recycle". I'm curious if there is ever a point where reusing, or more accurately, repurposing of certain materials is actually bad for the environment? The example from which this question originated was the use of bottles and cans in the walls of earthships. I am thinking that this sort of permanent reuse of a mineral based product is actually detrimental to our planet because it permanently sequesters this useful mineral in a form other than it's original form, which means that the amount of material available to remake the original product is decreased, resulting in the continuation of mining. If however, to use our example, cans and bottles are always recycled into more cans and bottles, mining could be reduced, or perhaps even ceased once the supply of minerals needed for cans and bottles, based on it's average demands, has been satisfied.

I know that matters are probably much more complicated than this, but is there logic behind my thinking? Is the practice of putting materials into novel uses such as for wall supports or garden edging actually bad for the health of our planet's already struggling ecosystems, or have I completely missed the mark?

Just something I've been pondering.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I agonize about this sort of thing nearly to the point of complete inaction. I have decided the best thing would be to use no resources whatsoever.

 
kent smith
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I worked in the aluminun and ferris industries for several years and was encouraged with how much metal was being reused and repurposed even before it was popular in our culture. One of the projects that I saw was the extraction of usable metal from the dross or scum that was skimmed off when remelting. Due to the economics most of the large companies tried to reclaim as much metal as possible rather than having to pay to have this material sent out for greater recovery and disposal. Unfortunantly in the aluminum industry we thought that reducing this loss to 5% was close to our best practices. However, when remelting cans this figure was much greater due to the thinness of the material which exposes more surface to reaction. In my post industrial life style I have come to the conclusion that even with the best of recycling that this is not a sustainable solution. Rather the change of life style to less consumption is a better solution. I have to laugh at freinds who have traded in decent, functional vehicles to buy new, greener hybrids. This is a very short sighted and a very environmentally negitive solution. In my opinion retaining your used vehicle, repairing it with reused parts from a salvage yard and driving it until it is completely used up makes both better environmental and personal financial reasoning. Better yet is to reduce our need to drive unnessary miles.

Sorry to get off on a rant. Our cultures addiction to consummerism and self gratification seems to me to be the root of so much waste. Waste of materials, energy, time, and life. As I age I find that weaning myself off of the dependency on the marketing, consumption, self image, but rather simplifying life and living a little closer to being part of nature rather than subduing nature is much more fullfilling.
kent
 
Dale Hodgins
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This part before the dotted line is added one day later. In my rush to talk about the fourth R I forgot all about dealing with the use of glass bottles. I'm in the recycling business and about seven post down you will see what I should've written here if I hadn't fallen in love with ranting on the fourth R. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The fourth R is by far the most important one.

By refusing to purchase products that make no sense we save far more resources than if we recycle or reuse those products.

In my own building plans I have refused to use carpeting, manufactured plasters, asphalt roofing, and a central heating system which burns fossil fuels. No amount of thermostat frugality could be as effective as simply not having the option of burning gas or oil. Because I'm not burning oil or gas, I won't qualify for any government grants applied to more efficient units.

Recycling programs which are supported by government and industry seldom advised us to not buy stuff. There are many government programs throughout the world which insist on complicated and expensive mechanical devices meant to save energy within the home when common sense says put a south facing sunroom on your house.

No matter what aspect of life were talking about whether it be housing, transportation or food everyone can exercise their financial power by refusing certain products in favor of others.

Our blue box programs in much of North America were funded initially by soft drink companies. In order to avoid rules which would have required all bottles to be returnable, they struck a deal by creating systems to recycle metal containers. This effectively killed many of the small bottlers who could not afford the economies of scale required for canning operations.

I make my living from recycling so I am keenly aware of various laws regarding waste management and whom they were written to serve.

There are four Rs, and refusal is by far the most important one.
 
Fred Morgan
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I totally agree Dale. I refuse to have a larger home than I need. I refuse to use anything other than my own power, if it will serve. (let's me eat more too!)

 
Tyler Ludens
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machinemaker Hatfield wrote:
Our cultures addiction to consummerism and self gratification seems to me to be the root of so much waste.


It is, and there's somewhat of a quandary in that our culture is dependent on consumerism for the livelihood of the vast majority of the population. If we reduce consumerism, we're reducing a lot of people's ability to make a living. This is a difficult problem that should maybe be discussed more in permaculture - how do we transition to a culture which does not depend on consumerism without causing people to lose their ability to make a living? With the failing economy in the US and elsewhere, we can see the effects of people losing their ability to make a living. What can permaculture offer to people who are losing or who have lost their ability to make a living in the current culture? How do people who have lost their job or even their career due to lack of consumerism make a living in a permaculture context? This is a serious question. I'm not defending consumerism, I'm just pointing out that our present culture is dependent on it. How many of us have jobs which fulfill an actual "need" and not just a "want"? I know for a fact my career doesn't fulfill anyone's actual need; I work in the entertainment industry.
 
Fred Morgan
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This is a very important point, Ludi. Right now, I think one could make an argument that about 20% of the population of the USA who wants to work, don't have work that is necessary. After all, people are surviving just fine without buying so much.

Permaculture talks about not having to work so hard to have a garden. I suspect we need to as well think about not having to work so hard just to survive. I used to make about 140K a year in the USA, and was using most of it to pay for mortgage, kids education, and put some aside for retirement. Eventually, I rethought it all, and strange as it might seem, that is when I started to get ahead.

Now, I probably don't work more than 20 hours a week, 10 hours in consulting, 10 hours for our own business. The rest, I read, relax and think. The thinking is probably the most productive thing I do. I also muck around in the gardens and our forests.

Here in Costa Rica, in the countryside, you have more the attitude that working for a salary is nice, because it allows you to get some money in order to build a new extension, perhaps buy some land, or invest in some livestock. People generally don't work to survive. Only recently have people started the endless slavery called credit - and people have learned that it just isn't worth it.

I grew up in a time when one parent stayed home because you didn't need both parents to work in order to pay the bills. We were fortunate that I managed to have a high paying salary, so my wife stayed home with our kids (I offered, but she was worried I might forget them somewhere... : ) ) But, it seems to be more normal now that both parents feel the need to work.

But, in my experience, those I worked around, often the second salary was for expensive vacations, new cars, a bigger home, etc. In other words, it wasn't needs, but wants. And sadly, many of these people are now coming into retirement having not saved much at all.

I guess what it really comes down to is not taking more than you need from ANY system. After all, how long would our permaculture systems last, if we were to overharvest or overutilize?
 
tel jetson
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reusing bottles and cans for building walls just isn't going to make a serious dent in the availability of material for recycling. vastly more gets landfilled than gets re-purposed. build your earthship free of guilt.

the one problem I do see with making use of waste streams is that it can potentially make us more dependent on, and therefore invested in, a wasteful culture. seems like a big part of all this permaculture business is the idea that people probably ought to quit doing all the wasting if we want to have any kind of enjoyable future. but presently there is so much useful stuff around that other folks call garbage, it makes perfect sense to use that stuff. the trouble comes if the wider culture does get the picture and stops the waste: all that free material that we were saving from landfills dries right up. the bigger trouble comes if we see that positive change coming, and we're so comfortable with using all that waste that we've been getting for free (or being paid to use in Dale's case) that we take steps to keep other folks wasteful.

anyhow, I don't think we should stop making use of waste streams when and where they're available, but I also don't think that they should be part of the long term plan. use the stuff as long as we can, but hope that it isn't around for long. just something I try to practice in my own life. I frequently fail.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Fred Morgan wrote:
But, in my experience, those I worked around, often the second salary was for expensive vacations, new cars, a bigger home, etc. In other words, it wasn't needs, but wants. And sadly, many of these people are now coming into retirement having not saved much at all.


Most people in the US who work multiple jobs are the working poor. What should they reduce in their lives in order to have to work less? What can permaculture do to help the working poor?

 
Rob Meyer
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Thanks for the answer T.J., that was what I was looking for.

In regards to where permaculture can help the working poor, it's not a matter of they need to use less of, but where they can introduce support systems so they have more money for other uses. For example, backyard, balcony, and community gardens can provide a food source for part of the year, reducing the need to spend money on groceries. Granted, there are indeed people who may be "poor" in terms of how much money they have saved up, but have very lavish lifestyles, and that is essentially their own fault for not being frugal, but even these people can be helped by permaculture if a homestead is set up, and the money made by that person then used to pay off the loans they used to finance their expensive lifestyle. This is not perfect, but a general answer to your question I suppose.
 
Fred Morgan
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Fred Morgan wrote:
But, in my experience, those I worked around, often the second salary was for expensive vacations, new cars, a bigger home, etc. In other words, it wasn't needs, but wants. And sadly, many of these people are now coming into retirement having not saved much at all.


Most people in the US who work multiple jobs are the working poor. What should they reduce in their lives in order to have to work less? What can permaculture do to help the working poor?



Back when we were the working poor, the ability to raise our own food is what made it comfortable. For the first eight years of our marriage, we aspired to poverty. But later in life, it amazed me how many people worked, who only worked for luxuries, though they thought they were necessities.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Rob Meyer wrote:
Granted, there are indeed people who may be "poor" in terms of how much money they have saved up, but have very lavish lifestyles, and that is essentially their own fault for not being frugal, but even these people can be helped by permaculture if a homestead is set up, and the money made by that person then used to pay off the loans they used to finance their expensive lifestyle.


The lavish lifestyle is the livelihood of some other people. When people give up their lavish lifestyles for frugality, how do we transition to this non-consumerist society? What I am seeing is the idea that when people lose their jobs due to other people reducing their lavish lifestyle, the person who lost their job should grow their own food. But there are other aspects of life than food. How does a person set up a homestead when they have lost their job due to reduction in other people's lavish lifestyles, is a question. If we become frugal, we lose our jobs, because very few of us have jobs which are intrinsic to the basic needs of life. I'm not saying people shouldn't become frugal, I'm pointing out the problem our society would face as our lavish lifestyles are reduced.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I make my living from the waste stream. The recycling of glass is probably the most shameful waste within this industry. There is absolutely no reason to avoid the use of recycled bottles. The idea that recycled glass goes to any useful purpose is seriously flawed. It's a lie that has been sold to us by manufacturers of glass containers.

Most recycled glass is cracked up and used to make an extremely low grade of gravel. There are various unions who won't allow it to be used on their job sites since it destroys work boots and overalls and causes general discomfort to those working with it. When used as gravel none of the embodied energy or resource value is really retained. It's simply a form of solid waste disposal which is more palatable to an ill-informed public than sending it to the landfill where an inert material like glass would be one of the least worrisome components.

Glass containers embody approximately 25 times as much energy as the cardboard type containers which milk is sold in. So it's a great idea to avoid purchasing products which are needlessly packaged in glass. But since there is already plenty of glass in the waste stream, it only makes sense to use it for something. Almost any idea you can come up with makes more sense than what currently happens to recycled glass.

Use as many glass containers for as many projects as you can dream up. Any dent you can make in the ridiculous practice of packaging inert liquids in glass and then selling the public on the lie that this is not a horrible waste will be useful and will not waste any truly recyclable product.

As for the cans, they're totally recyclable but most of their resource value is eaten up in gathering and transport. Putting them to positive use makes sense if you don't live right beside a smelter.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Dale Hodgins wrote: Putting them to positive use makes sense if you don't live right beside a smelter.


We have to drive 40 miles round trip to take our stuff to a recycling center.

 
tel jetson
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Rob Meyer wrote:
Granted, there are indeed people who may be "poor" in terms of how much money they have saved up, but have very lavish lifestyles, and that is essentially their own fault for not being frugal, but even these people can be helped by permaculture if a homestead is set up, and the money made by that person then used to pay off the loans they used to finance their expensive lifestyle.


The lavish lifestyle is the livelihood of some other people. When people give up their lavish lifestyles for frugality, how do we transition to this non-consumerist society? What I am seeing is the idea that when people lose their jobs due to other people reducing their lavish lifestyle, the person who lost their job should grow their own food. But there are other aspects of life than food. How does a person set up a homestead when they have lost their job due to reduction in other people's lavish lifestyles, is a question. If we become frugal, we lose our jobs, because very few of us have jobs which are intrinsic to the basic needs of life. I'm not saying people shouldn't become frugal, I'm pointing out the problem our society would face as our lavish lifestyles are reduced.


there's quite a bit of room between an economy based on excessive consumption and only providing for biological needs. a convivial culture (that's Ivan Illich's "convivial", not Carlo Petrini's) can make many luxuries available to everyone without being wasteful. it's sort of the difference between a giant house built poorly, and a small house built very well. not a great analogy, but maybe it demonstrates the idea. so we might have to give up the giant televisions, i-phones, and other assorted dross that qualifies as luxuries today, but maybe we get much better things in return.

how about another simplistic example: when there aren't automated factories churning out thousands of pairs of cheap sneakers every day, a lot more people can be employed making much better shoes that don't end up in the garbage in short order. waste is reduced, more meaningful work exists, feet are more comfortable, communities are more solidly tied together.

in your case, Ludi, I wouldn't advocate the end of the entertainment industry. maybe it, too, becomes more local. if soulless big-budget Hollywood crap (or really good big-budget Hollywood art) isn't available worldwide at the flip of a switch, folks aren't going to stop wanting to be entertained. it just looks different.

but now I'm rambling


regarding recycling glass: many parts of the world still build bottles to last and refill them. still takes energy to transport and clean them, but not near as much as it does to make new bottles. makes sense to me.
 
Tyler Ludens
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tel jetson wrote:
when there aren't automated factories churning out thousands of pairs of cheap sneakers every day, a lot more people can be employed making much better shoes that don't end up in the garbage in short order. waste is reduced, more meaningful work exists, feet are more comfortable, communities are more solidly tied together.


I'd rather an actual real example, not a fictional one. I'm more interested in what people will do for a living as people become more frugal, rather than dreaming about a future in which people can somehow afford to buy hand-made shoes from their neighbor. In my own case, local entertainment will not provide me a living. Just saying, this is not an entirely academic question for a lot of people. I would like to know more details about people who have stopped their consumerist life, what they used to do for a living and what they do now, etc. Just many more details about how a person actually makes the transition to the permacultural life.


Incidentally, I buy shoes which are made by hand in a regional factory, not in China. These shoes would probably be considered a "luxury" by many people because they are expensive.


Sorry if I sound grumpy or impatient.

I also think I'm off-topic.



 
duane hennon
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here is a good site about reuse, repurpose, recycle

refilling a bottle is reuse
using it as a "brick" is repurpose
smashing it to remelt is recycle

http://www.zerowasteinstitute.org/zwprojects.html
 
Jeff Mathias
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Hi Ludi,

You do bring up a lot of good points about a bad world. It is very unfortunate that we have created and allow to continue a system in which people are employed in the fashion they are. Have you seen the amount of money spent on just entertainment in just the US alone? I believe the transition is going to come with much pain as unfortunately there are many actually useless jobs in society today. That is not to say useless people at all but many are currently employed in unskilled jobs doing mindless useless services or better yet creating products nobody really wants, which creates a need to try to market and sell those useless items which only furthers the reliance on the system. All this usually to personally buy more of the useless services or products. Like I said there is much pain due in the near future.

Permaculture can be applied to each specific problem but it cannot be a safety net to a world gone mad. Permaculture can be one of the tools of transition though. Hopefully when the time comes there will be enough people with the knowledge and ability to help those needing to transition away from the useless economy that the pain can be minimized. Unfortunately we as a society (U.S. specifically) have backed ourselves into an area where there simply is no easy way out. At anytime in the last 30 or so years we had a real chance to minimize and even potentially mitigate the pain, but we kept piling it on and often even tried to brush away the signs that it was coming.

I'm more interested in what people will do for a living as people become more frugal, rather than dreaming about a future in which people can somehow afford to buy hand-made shoes from their neighbor.
I am not sure what you are asking here with this statement. There will be much pain and suffering, hopefully we will have at least some systems in place to help minimize it. Hopefully people are realizing that this is coming and are educating themselves in a manner that they believe will help them and benefit others.

But if you are asking; what will happen to the 10+year big chain fast food employee who blows their cash on porn and video games living paycheck to paycheck and aspires to nothing more than having a few bucks to make the Superbowl party or maybe even buy some tickets to the big event? It doesn't look good. Actually it doesn't look good for the professional athletes either. Many of the working poor I know could benefit from the frugality forum right away, as even though they are working poor they are not frugal at all with their earnings, just the opposite actually, but under the circumstances most simply cannot see it. Right now many of the tips just on permies.com frugality forum would increase their lifestyle and reduce their need to work harder or more jobs to earn more cash to spend on the useless economy.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Jeff Mathias wrote:
I'm more interested in what people will do for a living as people become more frugal, rather than dreaming about a future in which people can somehow afford to buy hand-made shoes from their neighbor.
I am not sure what you are asking here with this statement. There will be much pain and suffering, hopefully we will have at least some systems in place to help minimize it. Hopefully people are realizing that this is coming and are educating themselves in a manner that they believe will help them and benefit others.




What systems are people putting in place to minimize the pain and suffering? Any suggestions about how people should educate themselves in a manner which will help them and benefit others?

I guess what I'm looking for is more concrete information about how people are transitioning from their previous consumerist way of life, what they did for a living before and what they're doing now. I guess I'm looking for more detailed information about how people are making this transition.

Jeff Mathias wrote:
Permaculture can be applied to each specific problem but it cannot be a safety net to a world gone mad. Permaculture can be one of the tools of transition though. Hopefully when the time comes there will be enough people with the knowledge and ability to help those needing to transition away from the useless economy that the pain can be minimized.


I'm asking for that help NOW, not in some fictional future.

Sorry for my awkward quoting and editing.

I think this discussion should probably be split off instead of clogging up this thread...
 
Fred Morgan
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One of the issues is automation. For example, I am typing on a computer, used to be, you would dictate a letter to a secretary. In the past, I would need a book keeper, now I just do it myself, in about 2 hours a week, including payroll using software I wrote.

But, there is hope, as Peak Oil gets more serious, the nearly free power going away will make it most cost effective to use human power, instead.
 
Kay Bee
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I make my living from the waste stream. The recycling of glass is probably the most shameful waste within this industry. There is absolutely no reason to avoid the use of recycled bottles. The idea that recycled glass goes to any useful purpose is seriously flawed. It's a lie that has been sold to us by manufacturers of glass containers.


Thank you for posting this. If one looks deep enough, most commercial "recycling" systems are a sad illusion.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I totally disagree with the above statement which begins with a quote from me.

Most recycling has been of a very positive nature. The recycling of glass is the only giant exception to this which I can think of. The fact that it is recycled gives the consumer the idea that its use may make some sort of environmental sense.

Recycling of metal, cardboard, and paper have been highly successful in removing useful resources from the waste stream. Metals in particular are almost 100% recyclable and their resource value means that they can be gathered profitably, without government subsidy.

Building materials which are re- used save vast amounts of resources. I have recycled buildings for 16 years.

The mandatory recycling of drywall in many areas has preserved dump space and prevented contamination of groundwater. Drywall is turned into a new drywall.

The recycling of plastics has a spotty history. Some plastics go to refineries where they are broken down chemically to make new products.

Other plastics are turned into recycled plastic board of dubious quality. Plastic lumber has been used effectively for constructing park benches and other rot resistant outdoor structures. But the long-term durability and safety of these materials is not known. They are made of a chemical stew of various grades of plastics and contaminants. I would never use any plastic lumber within a building due to concerns with offgassing. So to some degree the recycling of plastics is solid waste disposal in a more palatable form but at least this material gets gathered up and doesn't make it to the landfill where it is one of the more worrisome components.

Someone mentioned melting down glass for recycling purposes. This has only been done on a very limited basis, mostly artists who are going for a particular look. Every different grade of glass has a different annealing temperature. The huge mix of grades whitch enter the waste stream has made it nearly impossible to determine the qualities of any given batch in a way which would be economically viable for the production of new bottles, window glass etc. I would doubt that 1% of used glass is made into new glass products. It is almost all dumped as aggregate or literally dumped in a landfill so that none of the original resource value or embodied energy is recoverable..
 
Kay Bee
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Sorry Dale - no intent to put words in your mouth. The above statement in my post is expressly my opinion and experience. If i could figure out how to go back and edit the post to clearly state it that way, I would. The new system seems quirky on this, to me.

I agree with you on metals. They may be the best case scenario right now. The recent bump in the price of metals has made it much more likely for scrap setups to truly recycle the metals, which I think is great.

As for the rest, it's not worth all that much, in my opinion. People tend to believe in the system, or they don't from what I have seen. Having been a resident in places like Chicago which has been slammed for sending their recycling collections straight to the landfill, I try and check in on what is happening with materials that are collected in places that I live. Haven't heard much good regarding return on investment. Too much energy expending trying to recycle the materials, again, in my opinion.

I am a big fan of personal re-use. Glass, plastic, cardboard, what have have you... most can find a good use on a homestead, in my opinion. Haven't put in to practice a way to make use of scrap metal yet, so it goes to the scrapyard.
 
Dale Hodgins
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No offense taken. I just like to clarify whenever there might be confusion.

I've also found it hard to edit if something if it is left very long. I even created a topic accidentally. I mentioned something which the moderator considered off-topic so a brand-new thread was created in my name for a nonsense issue. One reason I can see for a change in editing policy is that sometimes when people discover that they were in error over some issue they go back and erase. Why not admit that you learned something? All of the later chatter makes no sense outside of context.

I get where you're coming from on the overuse of recycling when it would be better to simply not purchase many products. With some items like paper ,the recycled product is low grade and huge amounts of energy consumed in the process.
 
Fred Morgan
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Recycling is more expensive than exploitation, no big surprise. Just like growing trees on a plantations is a lot more expensive than just extracting out of old growth forest. Extraction of materials for metal is an expensive process, more so when you count the pollution left for the tax payer (see Collapse by Jared Diamond). So, there is savings in recovery of metal. But glass is not so hard to get the raw material, so since the energy is lost forever, recycling isn't going to be cheaper, probably more expensive.

Plastics are generally made from petroleum, if I remember correctly. Oil is an incredibly cheap raw material, even at 150 dollars a barrel. But it isn't renewable.

I have honestly thought about buying landfills, just to have the resource then resources get scarce.

Just as now, plantations are economically viable, so will recycling, as resources get scarcer.
 
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Mike Oehler's Low-Cost Underground House Workshop & Survival Shelter Seminar - 3 DVD+2 Books Deal
https://permies.com/wiki/48625/digital-market/digital-market/Mike-Oehler-Cost-Underground-House
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