I've recently leased 10 acres outside a small village in China. My partner and I are working to establish a permaculture education center and model production site.
One of my biggest concerns at the moment is air pollution. The locals burn all their garbage, including all farm waste, e-waste and plastics. Obviously, this has got to stop. The immediate area is small, so educating the public on the dangers of burning plastic and other garbage should not be a huge problem. But, I'm not one to bring up a problem without suggesting a good solution.
Cutting out consumption of disposable plastics, for example through developing a localized green economy, is an ideal but long term solution. Land filling, incineration, and recycling by conventional means seem less ideal and require major government intervention, something I would like to avoid.
I'm interested in small scale recycling, reuse, and conversion to fuels but am concerned about toxins released when plastic is melted down. Techniques at least somewhat profitable are preferred, encouraging perpetual use and adoption.
Any advice or ideas would be greatly appreciated!
I would attach myself to the easiest thing you can reasonably manage. From your post, the easiest thing you could tackle to gain a foothold would be farm waste.
Finding ways to use biomass is not hard. Pile it somewhere and it's gone in a few years. If there are forward-thinking farmers in the area, you could propose a biomass utilization scheme to get those people to capitalize on it first. When you're one of the few utilizing an abundant resource, there are serious advantages.
I imagine the most difficult thing in that realm is transportation. It's much easier for them to pile and burn. But if you could work out the logistics and the timing (making sure you have a vehicle sitting there before the fire gets lit), you could make a lot of people happy.
As for the plastics, I've seen images of Guiyu and they are extraordinary. I don't think you would have much luck with convincing people not to melt the gold, copper and other precious metals out of the plastic. For that, your best bet is finding a way to have it done via industry. They created the things, they should be responsible for the re-use.
One suggestion would be to use plastics in building materials. It's not an ideal nor a long-term situation, but it does have the benefit of locking up dangerous chems in structures. It's a little better than burning. There's a documentary about this guy from arizona called the Garbage Warrior. He converts glass and plastic bottles, and old tires into Earthships.
With enough creativity, you might find that you could re-purpose some of that plastic to useful ends.
Oh, and then there's that guy that made a reverse polymerization thingy. He converts plastics into gasoline. On a small scale, it might be worth looking at that. Really it's just burning in a different way. But you get the add-on of fuel. I think that it does take electricity, so your energy conversion rate still isn't very great. Could be another pie-in-the-sky kind of thing.
There's also the MIT study of an amazonian fungus that feeds on plastic. But I think that's a little magical thinking there. Getting that going on a large scale is not within our means as of now.
I am somewhat amazed by the quick and useful answers to most questions. Thomas has apparently given this so much more thought than i have.
I agree, with the point of tackling the easiest to handle first. Since this is done individually by each neighbors knowing when they will want to dispose of waste might be a problem with picking it up. If it is possible and you wouldn't mind picking it up, perhaps you could get the neighbors to dedicate some items (I am thinking they wouldn't want to have to invest money in a can) which you might empty weekly.
Compost the waste in one of many ways, worm, compost pile or best yet but expensive is the bio gas production (india has that down to a science you might look into that). Now by each method you have left over fertilizer, use it or sell it back to neighbors or better yet trade them fertilizer for garbage waste and you can stop picking it up. It is possible you might have to deliver the first bucket of compost back to them to try out ...we, who use that stuff, are addicted to it...the crack of the gardener.
I think with a bit of luck the locals will see that it is to their advantage to not only get cleaner air but to gain the benefits of the end product...people being a bit on the lazy side will likely figure out that they could compost the materials themselves
Do they actually collect the precious metals from burning old tv sets or whatever? If they do not then perhaps knowledge of the existence of these metals in the units would make them more thoughtful about how they get rid of them. I am sorry but i have no solution there. It is my thought that with each step in better air they will think better of it and more ideas will come. Start small and work your way up.
I admit thomas is more of an expert when it comes to wastes, I just wanted to share my thoughts hoping you can find a gem or two among the garbage you can use.
I'm already planning on demonstrating TLUD Biochar in oil barrels, less than $10 here, or in brick and mud TLUD ovens. The locals usually partially burn the crop wastes mixed with soil to increase the char content, so the conversion should be well received. Compost and mulch will be big parts of our project, mulch probably more so than compost. The locals are partial to rice straw mulch for young trees and rice hulls for bamboo systems, but they usually still fertilize heavily.
I should have been more specific and apologize. I'm much more concerned with the plastic waste that is being burnt.
I have looked into the conversion of plastics to fuels or melting into building materials, but am concerned about making suggestions that could concentrate toxic exposure to a few workers rather than lower levels to the community at large. On the other hand, small plastic processing and recycling operations are quite common here. Does anyone know what toxins are released when melting plastics?
Thanks everyone for the replies. It looks like there are no simple small-scale solutions for recycling 'non-recyclable' assorted plastic waste without releasing toxins. I can't open YouTube here in China, but I've seen the related printed materials. My original idea was to melt, reshape and reuse the materials as building materials or fuel, but from what I understand these processes still release large amounts of stuff I don't want near our project site. An ecological design for the system would have to include some sort of bio-remediation, such as filtering air through a compost pile, to meet my personal goals. I'll need to find some local environmental engineering students to work with me on this project.
This subject is one I will continue to investigate, as it is my most pressing health concern at the moment.
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