E=MC²: Stuff is Energy!

E=MC²: Stuff is Energy!

Give waste a new life as a resource
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How we can turn our waste into energy that benefits us all. http://3bl.me/efaan9
Friday, April 16, 2010 - 11:31am


I had a funny idea for April Fool’s that we didn’t have space for. It was to run a video backwards of a polluting coal plant spewing waste CO2 into the air, as a solution for pollution. Just run the tape backwards. But in real life we actually do have the opportunity to run our waste stream backward. It’s called recapture, recovery, reuse, recycling. As Einstein so famously showed us- matter is energy and vice versa. When we give waste a new life as a resource, we save the energy it would take to make it form new, and gain the energy that is already embedded in the manufacture and engineering of that product or package. It is a recycled plastic bottle that becomes a bottle, or a car part, a carpet, or a house to put them all in. It’s yard waste that is recaptured as energy or soil as it composts. It’s an aluminum can that becomes a strong lightweight airplane part. Recycled plastic for example, is found in many unexpected places—including carpeting, the fuzz on tennis balls, scouring pads, paintbrushes, clothes, industrial strapping, shower stalls, drainpipes, flowerpots, and lumber. It also contains oils that could be recycled and reused as fossil fuels.

We recently passed a milestone: 2 million products recaptured at our Greenopolis tracking Stations. That’s 2 million bottles, cans, and other packaging that can be reused, recycled or converted into energy. And it really adds up to some real and potential energy savings:

Aluminum factoids:

  • More than 50% of a new aluminum can is made from recycled aluminum. But the new portion requires nearly 20 times more energy to produce.

  • Recycling one aluminum can saves 96% of the energy used to make that can from virgin ore, produces 95% less air pollution and 97% less water pollution according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

  • According to the EPA, recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • Energy saved from recycling one ton of aluminum is equal to the amount of electricity the average home uses over 10 years, according to Keep America Beautiful!

  • You can make 20 recycled aluminum cans with the energy it takes to make just one new aluminum can from ore.

  • There are 33 aluminum cans per pound and 66,000 per ton, and…

  • An estimated 55.0 billion aluminum cans were not recycled in 2005. That energy wasted would meet the needs of 1.5 million households for a year!

  • Recycling one ton of aluminum cans brings in $3300 in 5 cent redemption value, $6600 in 10 cent states

  • 55 billion aluminum cans landfilled have a scrap value of more than $900 million. (Someday we'll be mining our landfills for the resources we've buried.)

  • The energy saved from recycling one ton of aluminum is equivalent in energy to 2,350 gallons of gasoline that could fuel a car rated at 35 miles per gallon for 82,250 miles, according to Novelis.

  • A recycled six-pack of aluminum cans could save enough energy to drive a car five miles.

  • When you toss out one aluminum can, you waste as much energy as if you’d filled the same can half-full of gasoline and poured it onto the ground.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum every month to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.

PET Factoids:

  • Over 36 billion PET water bottles sold in the US each year.

  • 2,076,000 tons of PET bottles were wasted in 2006.

  • 17.5 billion plastic soda bottles were wasted in 2001.

  • It is estimated that 43.6 billion total PET bottles were not recycled in 2005. That energy wasted to produce new bottles would power 300,000 homes for a year!

  • That’s more than 119 million PET bottles wasted per day, nearly 5 million per hour, nearly 83,000 per minute. That represents nearly 30,000 kilowatt hours of electricity that could be saved every minute- enough to power 2-3 homes for a year.

  • The energy saved by recycling a single plastic bottle is enough to power a 60-watt bulb for six hours

  • A ton of PET plastic containers made with recycled plastic conserves about 7,200 kilowatt hours.

  • One ton of recycled PET saves 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million Btu's of energy, and 30 cubic yards of landfill space.

  • According to the EPA, recycling one ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space, and recycling a single pound of PET plastic bottles (used for soda and water bottles) saves about 12,000 BTU's of energy.

  • Every ton of plastic bottles recycled saves about 3.8 barrels of oil.

  • There’s a great counter at the Container Recycling Institute site- showing the number of beverage cans and bottles that have been littered, landfilled or incinerated this year in the US. Nearly 35 BILLION so far this year, or about 250,000 per minute by my measure.

You don’t need to be a physicist to realize there’s gold and energy in them there hills of aluminum and PET plastic! So get out there and scrounge up every aluminum can and plastic bottle you can lay your green little hands on. Bring ‘em to a GreenOps Tracking Station or your local recycler. We need the materials, we need the energy it represents, and most of all, we need the human physics- the change in awareness and attitude that will keep us thriving here on Planet Earth. Your E=MC² too, Einstein!

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Greenopolis.com is dedicated to our users. We focus our attention on changing the world through recycling, waste-to-energy and conservation. We reward our users for their sustainable behaviors on our website, through our Greenopolis Tracking Stations and with curbside recycling programs.