Chemistry

Chemistry plays a large role in zero waste. From melting down plastics so they can be recycled, to measuring the PH balance in compost, to deriving energy from waste, there been a lot of activity and development in this area, especially in recent years.

Chemistry of Compost
While we can put food scraps, food-soiled paper, and plant debris and clean wood in our green organics cart, the science of composting is more complex than that. There must be a fine balance of materials that go into compost, especially at the small home composting level. Learn more about that and the chemistry of compost from Cornell University.

Chemistry of Recycling
In order to recycle used items made from materials such as glass, metal, and plastic into new things, they first need to be melted down into their base material form. While glass and metal are nearly infinitely recyclable, plastic is a different story. GreenBiz does a good job at explaining plastic recycling in short order as well as exploring depolymerization. Did you know that plastic recycling also includes carpet recycling? It’s true! An interesting fact is that 75 percent of carpet is made from nylon, a plastic material. However, CVSan promotes less plastic use as being better for the environment in general because plastic recycling does have its issues.

How Materials Degrade
The many different materials that can be recycled break down and degrade differently, depending on what conditions they are exposed to. When placed in a landfill, materials do not degrade as much as they would under more natural conditions, especially if the materials are not organic and if the landfill is so compacted and removed from the elements. When left in the elements, it is a different story as MIT University explores. Materials also differ in degradation based on what type of material they are. Metal degradation, for example shown by the University of Michigan, is affected by “hop” rates of the different elements in the metal.

Taking Energy from Materials
There are many ways in which the waste management and zero waste industry now extract energy from materials such as landfill gas, anaerobic digestion from organics, incinerations and more. While incineration (burning of materials or combustion) is not something CVSan uses as a strategy for recycling or composting materials (see GAIA’s helpful video on the myths of “waste-to-energy”), landfill gas and anaerobic digestion are more and more common in our industry. Alameda County Industries (ACI), our contracted hauler uses liquified natural gas or LNG, which can come from landfills, in their collection vehicles.

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