Guest Author - Jan Harper
Garbage mining (or as we say here in UK, rubbish mining) is set to be a new source of wealth in US as in the rest of the world. Plastic is fast becoming so valuable that it will soon be very profitable to dig out tips and dumps and extract the plastic. Other commodities like glass and aluminium cans can be salvaged in the same way.
In US there are already large operations that earn a decent income from digging out landfill sites and separating out old garbage. These landfill sites are seen as totally untapped sources of wealth. Figures from the UK government estimate that 200 million tonnes of plastic was put into landfill sites in the last 25 years. At the present time discarded plastic is valued at £200 ($400) per tonne. So, there is around £40 billion ($80 billion) of plastic to be mined from these landfill sites. Add to that the aluminium, copper and other metals that have been discarded and the potential for profit is huge.
Take a country the size of US which is almost forty times the size of UK and the amount of money to be made from what has already been thrown away is colossal.
Plastics can be recycled and turned into sheeting and packaging much cheaper than by making them from scratch and there is also a plus for the environment as there are fewer carbon emissions. These plastics can also generate a lot of heat so they may be attractive as an alternative source of fuel. Another plus factor is that after the recyclable waste has been mined out, there will be more room to bury waste items that cannot be reused.
Peter Mills who is a UK expert in waste recovery suggested that the price of plastics could go so high that it would make it economical for companies to gather up the estimated three million tonnes of plastic that is currently floating around in the Pacific Ocean.
This sounds like an extremely good idea with the price of oil and other commodities soaring as it is but there are problems. Some landfill sites are closed off to allow organic matter to decompose and this process gives off methane. In some parts of US and UK this methane is being used as renewable energy so mining into the site would not be an option for at least 30 years as this is roughly how long the process takes.
There is also a major safety factor where adequate records have not been kept and it is not possible to say exactly what was buried in these landfill sites. Chemicals, volatile waste matter and even bio-waste could prove to be a hazard.
This idea sounds as though it would have a real impact on the fuel crisis and help our environment at the same time. It would also be lucrative so it is more likely that investors would put money into these projects. It just needs a lot of thought and careful planning to get it right because charging in may throw up more problems than it solves.