The Second Wave of Mining

The author with a group of Romani people (also known as gypsies) in front of a pile of scrap iron, collected for recycling. That pile has been there for more than a year. The recycling activity carried out by the Romani in Italy has been halted, in large part because the government forbade it and forced the recycling cooperatives to close down (governments don't like things they can't fully control). But, also, recycling stopped because of the collapse of market prices of scrap iron. This may be a symptom that the "second wave of mining", recovering mineral resources from waste, is late in coming. Will it ever arrive?

Human civilization started when humans learned how to exploit those concentrated mineral sources that we call "ores". After centuries of mining, most of these ores have been badly dented or even completely exhausted. The first wave of mining in human history will be over at some moment in the future. Will there be a second one in which we learn how to reuse the minerals that we have discarded?

The problem is felt everywhere and waste recycling is often presented as the miracle solution: it frees citizens from costs and bad smells, it saves the environment, it provides the economy with raw materials and people with jobs. But is it possible to "close the cycle of production" (the "cradle to cradle" (C2C) strategy)? If it were so, we would solve once for all the problem of depletion.

Unfortunately, recycling remains a cumbersome task that keeps going only by means of government subsidies and a set of laws that force citizens and companies to do it. Recycling is especially difficult if it is necessary to restore the initial quality of the materials being recycled. In practice, recycled materials that can compete in a free market are often of poor quality and suitable only for some specific processes. Recycled plastics, for instance, can be used only for some low price applications; such as fruit crates. Recycled steel contains plenty of contamination in the form of different metals and can be used only for some specific tasks.

Because of these problems, closing the cycle by recycling alone seems to be impossible. We simply don't recycle enough. Common metals are recycled at an average of around 50% of the total produced (Papp 2005). Some cases are especially favorable, such as lead which is recycled at the level of 74%. But, even if we recycle something at 75% we are far from closing the cycle: even in that case, after ten cycles, we are left with less than 0.1% of the initial amount. Surely, we can devise better recycling strategies, but there are limits in terms of monetary costs and energy needed.

So, we can't avoid to start thinking of recovering all that material that we have so foolishly thrown away when we thought that abundance would last forever. In large part, this material has ended up dispersed in the environment as dust or ashes. But a good fraction of it is buried in landfills. Can it be recovered?

A conference held in London in 2008 examined the feasibility of landfill mining. The results have not been very encouraging. Even when the prices of mineral commodities is high, as it was in 2008, recovery from landfills has at best a marginally positive economic return. With the collapse of commodity prices that took place in late 2008, the second conference on landfill mining, originally planned for October 2009, had to be canceled.

Landfill mining turns out to be a very different task in comparison to conventional mining. Ores are normally formed of homogeneous mineral species that contain just a few chemical species. A landfill, instead, contains a large number of metals mixed together at various scales - from the micro (incinerator ashes) to the macro (undifferentiated urban waste). In addition, the composition of a landfill varies with depth: people would throw away different kind of materials depending on the technology of the time, on how rich they were, and on how efficiently recycling was implemented. Typically, old layers of landfills are richer in metals than the more recent ones.

Even though landfills are often rich in metals, recovery is very difficult. Recovering single metals out of incineration ashes is pretty impossible (Shen and Fossberg 2003). Something better can be done when waste remains unprocessed. For instance, iron items can be extracted by means of magnets. Light density materials (e.g. aluminum cans) can be separated by methods based on friction and gravity. Usually, however, these processes remain too expensive to be usable in practice on existing landfills.

So, mining landfills remains a chimera, at least by industrial methods. It is not so in poor countries, where landfills often provide the means of survival for large numbers of people. It is not something to be happy about; often, these people are extremely poor and their way of living is dangerous and unhealthy. Nevertheless, they have found a way of mining landfills that works and they are performing a useful task for the whole community.

These considerations have led to revisit the concept of waste recycling performed by individuals or by cooperatives: a concept that is called participatory sustainable waste management. The idea is that of a different paradigm in mining: not the heavily mechanized method that are typical of the mining industry, but low cost methods based, mainly, on the work of human beings. If this work is performed with appropriate precautions for the health of the workers, and if they are paid enough, then it is a win-win strategy: it recovers precious materials for society and it provides a way of living to people who, otherwise, would have none. In the figure, here, you can see Jutta Gutberlet, of the University of Victoria, Canada, working with the catadores of a landfill of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

So, perhaps, the second way of mining is coming, after all. But it will be nothing like the first. Whereas, once, finding a rich ore was a good way of making a lot of money, not many people are going to strike it rich by mining landfills. It will be hard work and little pay, yet, it may be a way to face our uncertain future.

News of last week is that the Romani succeeded in selling the pile of scrap iron that you see in the picture at the beginning of this text. They made 450 Euros out of it. Not a way of becoming rich for them but, at least, that iron is back in the industrial cycle.


I would like to thank Jutta Guttberlet for having introduced me to the concept of participatory sustainable waste management and to the world of the Brazilian "catadores". You can find a description of Jutta's work at her site at the university of Victoria, Canada. I would also like to thank all the members of the Romani community of Sesto Fiorentino, Italy, in particular Mr. and Mrs. Zoran and Yelena Jankovich, for their kindness and hospitality.


Papp, J.F. 2005 “Recycling Metals”, United States Geological report

Shen, H. Fossberg, E. 2003 "An overview of recovery of metals from slags" Waste Management Volume 23, Issue 10,Pages 933-949

On ore depletion, see also:

"The Universal mining machine", by Ugo Bardi, The Oil Drum, January 2008,

"Minerals scarcity: a call for managed austerity and the elements of hope", A. Diederen, The Oil Drum, March 2009,

On participatory sustainable waste management, see the PSWM site at

One particular problem with informal scrap collection and recycling, particularly when it is done by travelling people, is that some of the 'scrap' that is collected tends to be still required by its original owners, and still an operating part of the local infrastructure. It is unfortunate that these people suffer as outsiders and seen as criminal by the more sedentary, but a significant minority of them are just that.

In extreme cases copper natural gas pipes or electricity wires are removed, leading to power cuts or gas explosions.

In the near future I see this becoming a worse problem as we go through powerdown, to the point where the infrastructure damage costs more energy to repair than is saved by valid recycling.

Just part of the reason powerdown needs to be planned to avoid it becoming collapse.

In the UK recycling is down fairly efficiently at the local council level, at least in my area.

It seems there was a spate of such stories last year when copper prices were high. There would be news stories of these amateur "recyclers" getting electrocuted in a power substation or knocking out a cellphone tower by stealing coaxial cables.

They'd get maybe a hundred dollars' worth of copper and do a half million dollars damage -- the copper is much more useful if it happens to be in a certain shape.

You cannot sell catalytic converters salvaged from automobilies or mopre than a few pounds of copper in most places in North Carolina without showing a drivers liscence and signing a copy of the sales receipt retained by the buyer.

A few transmission lines-ones that were not in use but maintained as backups- have been stolen in this area, and a couple of people have been reported as killed or seriously injured stealing copper electrical cable.

All the crippled automobiles sittting on blocks vanished when scrap prices were up.It is now difficult to buy a fender or tail lamp for a car much over about eight or nine years old because the used parts dealers sold all thier older cars to metal recyclers.

Lots of older cars in danger of repossession were sold for scrap but the local law soon put a stop to that by making it illegal for a metal recycler to possess a car without a valid title.

The country side sure looks a lot neater now but some useful machinery that might have come in handy at some future time was crushed ,such as old hay wagons, plows,gates,and heavy duty metal tables.

I was luckily able to buy such a table -which is very useful in a garage or shop -before it was cut up for a couple of hundred bucks.It would cost over a thousand to buy the steel now to build one like it.

Certainly, salvaging spare parts or even finished products like the table is a much higher value form of re-use than recycling scrap. As much as I dislike auto salvage yards making it easier to keep old, high-polluting cars on the road, we'll need those spare parts one day.

Living in an apartment building, you'll see a lot of perfectly good furniture thrown out by people who just ran out of time or space when they moved out.

Ralph, you are right on many counts. Also around here, there have been occasional thefts of materials from construction sites and, at least in one case, a poor guy got killed while trying to steal a high voltage cable (BTW, he was not a gypsy and it seems not to be a legend: it was reported in newspapers). However, in my experience, gypsies tend to very careful and behave legally when collecting waste because they are the first to be suspected when something goes missing. I have no specific statistics, but I understand that, if I were a gypsy, I would be at a distinctive disadvantage in starting a career as thief.

Apart from that, it is very important that waste collection is NOT informal. It has to be formally controlled by the authorities just to avoid what you are saying, that waste pickers are accused of stealing. As you say, it needs to be planned. Absolutely. It seems to have worked in the experience of Sao Paulo, where waste pickers have gained a good reputation that they didn't have before.

In my area, the travellers are traditionally either British or Irish. There are 'pure bred' Romany, but they do not generally mix with other travellers. There are officially sanctioned (and unofficial) camp sites in the area for travellers - you know when you are near them by the lack of aluminium road signs. Burnt out cars or free range ponies are another indicator.

Recently the upturn in crime has been attributed to East European migrants, legal or otherwise. There was a documentary on our TV last month, on a Romany village in Romania that was almost entirely funded by the proceeds of theft and begging in West European countries, run by a local mafia. It was a very sad thing to watch.

Ralph, in this field it is always difficult to tell legends from truth. Aluminium is not worth so much and it is difficult to sell. Think of showing up at a scrap collecting plant with a truck full of street signs! It is unthinkable - even for gypsies. I'd say, especially for gypsies who, as I said, are always under suspicion of being thieves. At least, the state has not crumbled yet but, indeed, the day it does most of those nice aluminiumn street signs would disappear forever.

Ugo, scrap dealers are not paragons of bureaucratic compliance. A large percentage will take waste whatever the source if they can turn a pretty penny.

Last year on a BBC consumer programme Rogue Traders, two journalists dressed as scrap dealers taking supposed scrap, cast iron manhole covers, signs, even bus shelters to various scrap metal dealers and they found no problem in disposing of the metals and getting paid, no questions asked. The scrap is soon melted down and the evidence of any wrongdoing destroyed.

It certainly happens in the UK - we had a spate round here of accidents caused by stolen cast iron drain covers and a lot of new street signs are plastic specifically because of aluminum theft. You are required to provide a name and address but no proof (!) and most scrap yards will take anything - there was a documentary a year or so ago where two deliberately suspicious characters turned up with very unlikely to be legitimate scrap (including a complete bus shelter) and gave obviously comedy names, most yards they covertly filmed took what was offered no questions asked.

Crossed with the post above

Just to confirm, the large (10ft high)(presumably aluminium) sign for the A10 juntion on the A14 has been missing for a couple of years. It is 100M from a permanent traveller's site (not gypsies). I am used to it now, but I missed that turn on several occaisons.

I guess the reason it hasn't been replaced is that the highways agency gave up from repeated thefts.

Are you suggesting that the local travelling community might be responsible for stealing the metal road signs? I am shocked, shocked I tell you.

You need to re-educate yourself and listen to Cambridge's own Rokka Radio - you will then learn that ALL TRAVELLERS are good simple Country folk,travelling the land singing to people like Alan a Dale ;-)

I heard it was the Royals.. there's some old Oxford initiation rite.. they just make it look like the travellers must have done it. It's hard to dispel the fond notion of them as 'simple, friendly aristocrats' .. but sometimes, they are just pure mischief!

Recently the upturn in crime has been attributed to East European migrants, legal or otherwise. There was a documentary on our TV last month, on a Romany village in Romania that was almost entirely funded by the proceeds of theft and begging in West European countries, run by a local mafia.

I wonder if there was a documentary last month on Romanian TV documenting the raping and pillaging by TPTB of world resources leading to the accumulation of illegal wealth by criminals of the western world's economists, bankers and CEOs of multinational corporations?!

Timber? Mote?

BTW the upturn in crime has been attributed?!! Hahahahaha! That proves everything beyond a shadow of a doubt, now doesn't it.

This story is very ironic to me personally because I recently had a rather heated discussion with my brother regarding his views about gypsy criminal behavior in Hungary. He had just returned from visiting our family in Hungary. He was upset because neither my sister and her husband in Germany nor I agreed that gypsies were less than human and shouldn't be treated as such. No, he didn't put it so explicitly, his prejudices like yours are not self evident to him. Even more ironic,he also just recently closed his recycling business in Sao Paulo...

We have a saying in Brazil "A merda e sempre a mesma so mudam as moscas" that roughly translated says: Same sh1t, different flies.

Not many Germans would feel free to rant in this way about Jews. Yet people from Southeastern Europe seem to believe it's OK to talk like that about a people their ancestors tried to exterminate.

The Roma are treated really badly in Romania. What opportunities are there for most of them besides begging, crime and such really?

Not many Germans would feel free to rant in this way about Jews. Yet people from Southeastern Europe seem to believe it's OK to talk like that about a people their ancestors tried to exterminate.

Just to be clear this is what I said:

He was upset because neither my sister and her husband in Germany nor I agreed that gypsies were less than human and shouldn't be treated as such.

I think you understood what I said but I just wanted to be sure.

I also tried to make it clear that he wasn't conscious of his own prejudice, therefore his reaction when he was called on it. One more thing, in my discussion with him, I made it clear that were I to be the victim of theft by anyone regardless of the thief's ethnic origins I would very probably be upset. That is a normal human reaction. That however doesn't excuse racism, or the us versus them mentality so blatantly obvious in the comments by RalphW.

Yeah, this is why I brought up Jews. Germans, and people of European descent in general really, are taught what one should say or not say about Jews. People are made to be conscious... and frequently reminded as well.

I have been upset by the behavior of some Roma myself. And I agree this doesn't make me a racist creep.

There is a difference between RalphW and us however. For all I know, his (grand)father died to save the Roma people from extermination. Yours might have fought on the right side but the odds aren't very good considering your Magyar handle. Maybe this means nothing to you but it means something to me.

Yours might have fought on the right side but the odds aren't very good considering your Magyar handle. Maybe this means nothing to you but it means something to me.

Regardless of what side my grandparents were on I can only take responsibility for my own views and actions. I can't change the past I can only act in the here and now. It means plenty to me, if it didn't, I wouldn't bother to challenge the views of my own blood brother. Silence and lack of confrontation would be the much easier course.

I commend you for your efforts but my point was not merely historical: in the here and now, Roma are more at risk of serious persecution in Romania and the neighboring countries than in the UK. That makes British racism less sinister in my opinion.

I'm aware that the Roma are at more serious risk in Romania as they are in Hungary for that matter than they might be in the UK.

I'm not trying to be a pedant here but racism is a very slippery slope and I'm afraid I can't buy the gradation of shades of grey argument in this case.

As a human being I'm aware of my underlying baser impulses and drives, I understand that I myself have to fight my instincts in some cases. Humans have evolved to best function in small tribes we instinctively rally around our own and are fearful of the members of the other tribe to deny this is a recipe for misunderstanding our own history and nature. We can't rise above our baser instincts if we don't even acknowledge them.

So to be clear there is no such thing as "Less sinister racism", all racism is sinister.

Let's look at what transpires in the papers:

Prejudice against Roma — widely known as Gypsies and long among Europe’s most oppressed minority groups — has swelled into a wave of violence. Over the past year, at least seven Roma have been killed in Hungary, and Roma leaders have counted some 30 Molotov cocktail attacks against Roma homes, often accompanied by sprays of gunfire.

But the police have focused their attention on three fatal attacks since November that they say are linked. The authorities say the attacks may have been carried out by police officers or military personnel, based on the stealth and accuracy with which the victims were killed

People have much the same "base instincts" in the UK but is anything like that going on there?
What the Roma fear are not mere racist sentiments. Let us not feign ignorance.

Either you are being deliberately obtuse or I'm doing a very poor job of making my point, which is that if racism is allowed to persist unchallenged it creates the climate in which atrocities such as those occurring in both Romania and Hungary against the Roma can occur. The fact that somebody who is a racist is not actually out and about killing people doesn't excuse the fact that they are still racist.

What the Roma fear are not mere racist sentiments. Let us not feign ignorance.

That's like saying the Jews in Nazi Germany did not have to fear mere anti Semitic sentiments, are you for real?

That's all I have to say on this topic.

Yes, I am for real. And, believe it or not, I also happen to disagree with your analysis of racism and authoritarianism.

Poly ethelene terapthalate (PET)would be a good material to recycle.

It is used for soda pop bottles. It has outstanding properties and can be re-worked.

It appears impervious to degredation. There are mechanical masticators (say it carefully!) that heat the plastic and turn it into bubble gum like substances that can be saturated with gas under pressure, which when released, foams up to form a wood like material.

I believe that the masticators are made in Slovakia.

Our local garbage collectors also take plastic , glass, steel, aluminium and green waste for recycling or composting.

Your can also deliver to the recycling centre larger items, hardcore, ceramics, old tools, appliances (including fridge/freezers for CFC reclaiming),
oil oil/paint/organics, batteries , etc, etc. Reusable items are sold on an ad hoc basis. You can buy three old cycles for pennies and make a working one out of them for a few pennies more.

Our local council has invested in an In-Vessel Composter, so that in addition to green garden waste they now want, from this week, corrugated cardboard and waste food in the bin, including meat. Apparently compost will be available free of charge at some point!

From this week other none corrugated cardboard and card can go out with the waste paper.

Wrexham is at present recycling 40% of household waste but it would seem the difficulty is how do you substantially increase the rates until you close the loop & recycle 100%.

Apart from Alcoa highly secretive, process of "fractional crystallization" for separating alloys and metals from each other the only method is human hands to sort and de-construct household junk.

We could of course not use as much stuff and penalise manufacturers that use too much packaging, but that is unlikely to happen until the system starts to breakdown.

PET is probably the -only- synthetic polymer that can effectively be "unzipped" to re-form the monomers from which it was made. The recipe involves pressure cooking it in methanol to produce methyl terephthalate and the dimethyl ether of ethylene glycol. The methyl groups can then be cleaved. I don't know if it is competitive with newly synthesized terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol.

Of course most any polymer could be forced to react with hydrogen, but the methane
produced would be ridiculously more costly than natural gas.

Plastic is "downcyclable", not recyclable. Most of it is discarded, even that picked up for recycling. It gives the illusion that you are helping.

I wonder if thermal de-polymerization would work on plastic. ?? Maybe a ship could power its way through the N. Pacific gyre on plastic waste :o

Changing World Tech specifically lists mixed plastic as a feedstock.

If PETE can be reduced to monomer, it is an exception to the claim of non-recyclability.  However, any kind of plastic can be gasified and turned into syngas.  If the monomers came from syngas in the first place, this is a way to recover and recycle a substantial amount of the original input.  (Since syngas can be made from almost anything, losses can be replaced from biomass.  The relatively low per-capita consumption of plastic could be satisfied with biomass.)

When Recycling is Bad for the Environment

in Discover Magazing

Over the longer term most plastic will be 'recycled' as fuel, the way it already is in some of the
poorest places in the world. horribly dirty, poisonous to the surrounding area, but, heat is heat and as we see
even in times of cheap energy, there are a lot of people who can't afford anything better.

I took several electric motors to the garbage tip the other day. You could see bright copper windings inside the rotor housing. However when people are paid $20 an hour it is just not worth the delicate task of separating the copper. Of course garbage tips now contain mercury from expired and crushed CFL bulbs and radioactive isotopes from smoke alarms.

In my opinion we should not worry about mining garbage dumps. The only mineral I believe will run short by 2050 is concentrated phosphate. I'm not worried about lithium, indium and so on because they have substitutes unlike phosphate. We should worry about food and base level human welfare.

I have seen several illegal waste dumps in Italy. Everywhere, the CRTs of TV sets have been all carefully broken and opened to extract the copper coils inside. The same for electric motors - it is a new phenomenon: copper evaporates!

It is not just the gypsies who do it (they know how to do it, but they don't seem to be doing it systematically). It is by now part of the survival techniques of people living precarious existences as outcasts of society. On your point: we may have problems with copper availability much before 2050. It will not depend just on the availability of mineral copper, but on the capability of the economic system to provide resources to extract it.

While many metals pose daunting problems with regard to recycling, steel is clearly not one of them.

The article states: "Recycled steel contains plenty of contamination in the form of different metals and can be used only for some specific tasks."

This statement is inaccurate and highly misleading. Steel is by far the most widely recycled metal. According to Wiki, in 2007 in the US 78% of steel was recycled. In the year 2000, this amounted to some 60 million metric tons. Roughly 97% of discarded structural steel is recycled, and effectively 100% of the steel in scrapped automobiles is recycled. By recycling steel, energy consumption is cut by roughly 75%. This is one reason the practice is so widespread.

It should also be noted that on a weight basis, by far most of the steel produced is plain old low-carbon steel. As such, metallic contaminants are generally not an obstacle to quality control, as most of these are removed in the molten slag. Metallic contaminants might be a problem in the production of certain special high-alloy steels, but these represent but a small fraction of total steel production.

Bottom line: Don't worry too much about steel.

Unrelated comment: It is difficult enough to economically separate and recycle materials from municipal waste streams as they are made available for disposal, but trying to actually mining those same materials from the waste present in existing landfills has got to be an exercise in futility.

What are the temperature requirements for reworking steel? Could such a temperature be obtained without burning fossil fuels?

Gail -

The temperature required for recycling steel scrap is pretty much the same temperature for smelting iron from iron ore (maybe a tad less).

But that only tells part of the story. The energy required to smelt steel from the ore is considerably greater because smelting involves a very energy-intensive oxidation/reduction reaction, whereas melting iron already in the metallic form only involves heating the iron up to the melting point and then the added energy associated with the phase change.

Much steel recycling involves the use of electric furnaces. Therefore, fossil fuels are not inherently essential to this step. If the electricity is provide by nuclear, wind, or solar, no fossil fuels would be needed.

Incidentally, you don't even need fossil fuels (in this case, coke) for the smelting of iron ore. There is a process called 'direct reduction' in which hydrogen is reacted directly with the iron oxide in the ore to produce metallic 'sponge iron', which can then be separated from the non-metallic portion of the ore by conventional melting. This process has been in full-scale use for quite a while in steel mills in the Middle East, where an abundance of natural gas constitutes the source of hydrogen (actually a reducing gas consisting of a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide). It is also used in some other countries such as India. Thus, one could theoretically used nuclear, wind, or solar power to generate hydrogen via electrolysis and thus smelt iron ore without using fossil fuel. The economics, however, are another issue (as they usually are).

In the past the smelting of ore & production of steel was fueled with charcoal.

And most of England was deforested in the process at pre-industrial usage rates!

Human activity is unsustainable at any level.

Neolithic hunters demolished the faunas of Australia & the Americas, and of many an oceanic isle.

Bronze & Iron Age smelters & blacksmiths deforested vast areas.

Pastoralists of the same era overgrazed & desertified the Middle East.

It wasn't at the dawn of cereal grain agriculture, even less of the Industrial Revolution, that human activity became unsustainable. It was before our rapacious & pyromaniacal species even left Africa.

I have little doubt that playing with fire(metaphorically) will sooner or later result in our extinction,if we assume that we are unable to escape this planet and find another suitable for colonization.

Mathematically speaking, any event that can happen will happen sooner or later given enough dealings of the cards:

Since the probability of a flat out nuclear war is greater than zero;since the probability of some idiot sooner or later bioengineering a super flu is greater than zero;since the possibility that a virus capable of killng us all evolving naturally is greater than zero;since many other such sobering possibilities are greater than zero.....

The cards are constantly being shuffled and dealt.

Sooner or later we must draw one of many possible fatal hands.

But that does not mean that we will draw such a hand SOON- it just means that we will draw it sooner or later.;)

bingleybong -

From what I understand, most of England was deforested not so much as the result of making charcoal for iron production, but rather as the result of shipbuilding.

A Napoleonic War era 100-gun ship-of-the-line probably consumed well over 100 acres of old-growth forest, and England produced hundred and hundreds of wooden warships. Then there was England's merchant fleet, which was by far the largest in the world. All that takes LOTS of wood. Which is why England is rather sparse today in terms of major forests.

It's a good thing they had lots of coal, as the wood just wasn't going to do it anymore.


I can't remember the titles and authors right now but I am certain that Merry Olde England suffered
a major deforestation as a result of making charcoal rather than shipbuilding-I have a couple of books about the early stages of the industrial revolution.

That said, timber suitable for building warships was also in short supply.At one time the possession of trees suitable for making the main masts of the larger battleships was more or less the equivalent of the possession of such ships themselves,as this was the most critical and hard to obtain part of the entire ship.

I think your estimate of the amount of old growth forest per ship is on the high side .I just checked and the very biggest ships were only 2500 tons displacement.Assuming the wood was used with two thirds waste, that would only require a harvest of 7500 tons for a ship ,or only about 15,000 pounds (7.5 tons) per acre from a hundred acres.Thats only about ten big logs 16 feet long,which is a good truck load.An acre of big oaks would have at least fifty such trees here in the southeastern US.My guess is that probably under twenty acres of mature timber would be needed per ship, and a lot of the wood was imported,teak being the most desirable.Scandaniacian evergreens made the best masts-can't remember the species- until white pine from New England was substituted.

But good English oak was apparently the preferred wood for framing the ship and reinforcing everything above the water line.The sides of the ships were up to two feet thick ,which was enough to be proof against long range gunfire in those days.

oldfarmermac -

Well, that 100 acres per ship-of-the-line was more of a a wild-ass guess on my part.

However, it appears that you may have slipped a decimal place in your back-of-the-envelope calculation. You see, 7,500 tons of raw tree per 2,500-ton ship (a perfectly reasonable assumption in my opinion) amounts to 75 tons per acre, not 7.5 tons per acre as you had stated. Therefore, your ten big logs would have to be increased up to 100 big logs, and as far as I can tell, 100 really big log per acres is doing pretty good.

So, I think my WAG of 100 acres of forest per ship-of-the-line may actually have been on the LOW side, particularly after you've gone through the choice old-growth forest of Robin Hood's day.

The other problem, as you had alluded to, was the availability of really big straight trees for the masts. This became such a problem that shipbuilders (particularly the Spanish) started constructing mast of composites made out of smaller sections of trees held together by iron bands. (This wasn't always successful.) As England became depleted, their shipbuilders turned to Scandinavia for the really big stuff. A brisk trade soon ensued.

Indeed, oak was the preferred wood for ships' sides, as it was strong, tough, and reasonably resistant to rot. Still, those old wooden warships were super high-maintenance items. The whole thing was very much akin to the military-industrial complex of the US today. And the English could build more ships faster and cheaper than anyone else, which is why for many years Britannia Ruled the Waves.

I do believe you're right about that decimal-you won't get get a hundred good mature oaks per acre if they exhibit the same growth habits they do here.Otoh such trees are usually good for a second and third smaller and somewhat shorter log for about thirty five to forty feet total of good timber -still not enough to build a ship out of a twenty acre tract.

I have a friend who owns a very modest house surrounded with a couple of acres of such trees maintained like an English park and checking my arithmetic again I get a max of about sixty to seventy such trees per acre to allow for thier huge crowns-if the spacing is any closer some are shaded too much and would either die or fail to flourish.

This was a natural second growth forest with large trees even back then when he got the place and we cut out all the other trees and undergrowth mostly by hand, smoothed up the ground and saved the oaks unharmed about thirty years ago.It took us about a month iirc.They are mostly around thirty inches in diameter now and will be truly impressive trees in another forty or fifty years.

Of course we'll be long gone by then and his kids will be old men.

An unmanaged woodland would not have so many nice oaks anyway-but at least some of the English forests were actively managed with the intent of producing large timbers for building .

I guess I'm not getting enough sleep,I don't often make such silly mistakes.

The UK was already short of wood by 1200 hence the extensive peat workings at places like the Norfolk Broads (yes they are man made!)

Somehow I doubt the Dutch navy was built out of Dutch wood.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of uses for wood as well as for cleared land and that, absent other fuels, regulations or other constraints, people tend to cut forests down. Claims of inordinate deforestation during the Roman Empire, the Middle-Ages and so on have been made by historians. Huge navies don't seem necessary of sufficient.

If people can't manage renewable resources (fisheries anyone?), why should we expect reasonable management of the harder problem of non-renewables?

Actually it was both (although coke based iron making had started to take over by the end of the Napoleonic wars as charcoal shortages had already forced the change by then) - a main use for iron was cannon and balls for the same wars too. It rather depends where and when you mean, much of Kent and Sussex had relatively little old growth timber but lots of coppiced or pollarded woods for charcoal - not all for iron making of course but fuel was a major constraint on the amount that could be smelted (and I don't think all that many people realize Sussex hammer ponds are industrial archeology either).

Lack of timber in Europe forced much shipbuilding to move to the 'new' world before iron ships replaced wood too. One surprisingly little known reason why Napoleonic France failed to invade was lack of suitable shipbuilding timber, prevailing winds meant that the simple barges they built without the natural curved timbers yielded by mature oaks would be very limited as to when they could cross the channel (no hope of sailing upwind and the usual wind direction is away from England) although in fact they never even got enough built to try. The last big deforestation in the UK was also war related - pit props for the trenches in WWI.

Overall though DD is right - as a species we appear to overrun our environment whatever level of technology is available.

I've read that no more than 20% recycled steel can be used in structural applications, including auto manufacture, because of impurities. With recycled cars it is mostly zinc that 'contaminates' the batch.

Glass is often crushed and used for asphalt aggregate and like the Discover article I posted indicates, much plastic goes to the landfill.

I can't imagine glass being used for asphalt aggregate. I have visited a glass bottle plant in the Netherlands and was informed that even for white glass they use 90 % recycled glass (cullet). White glass is difficult to produce from cullet as the cullet needs to be white to. Melting of cullet is much less energy intensive then melting of the raw materials of glass. For green or brown glass the percentage increased to 95% recycle materials!

Also I have built a plant for glass wool insulation (in Russia) and they would love to use 100% cullet as the color does not matter for them and melting would require less gas (expensive also in Russia)

Oh, but it is:

Don't be afraid. It's only "glassphalt".

"Glassphalt" paving material can cause hopeless glassophobes to suffer flashbacks and convulsions. This special asphalt sparkles in a way that mimics very closely the appearance of a biblical amount of glass shards scattered on the road. If it looks like crushed glass, well, that's because it is crushed glass. "Glassphalt" incorporates a small percentage of recycled glass, called cullet, into the aggregate mix.

Decades ago, the use of glassphalt was driven by economics. There were so many sources of cullet around that it was considered a useless waste product. It was being given away, and those responsible for paving and resurfacing streets had the bright idea that it could be used in the road mix as a way to cut expenses. Today, however, with the widespread use of plastic bottles and the general decrease in sources of glass, asphalt containing crushed glass costs more than regular asphalt. Even with the added expense, it is still used occasionally as it significantly increases the durability of the road surface.

from "The Art of Urban Cycling" by Robert Hurst

ET -

I don't claim to be an expert on the US iron and steel industry, but I tend to question that 20% figure.

According to USGS data, in 2007 the US produced 97.8 million MT of steel and imported 31.5 million MT. After US steel exports are subtracted and some other adjustments made for internal transfers, the US had an 'apparent steel consumption' of 110 million MT.

Now, the largest users of steel in the US are the automotive industry followed by large consumer goods and the construction industry. If something like 80% of US steel production is from recycled scrap, then it would follow that a great deal more than 20% of recycled steel has to be going into US cars and structural steel.

You are correct that zinc is a problem. The biggest source is probably carburetors (well, these days fuel injection throttle bodies) and other small special cast parts. As zinc is a highly recyclable material, these can always be removed from the cars prior to crushing if excess zinc is a problem. It does take more labor, though.

To further put things into perspective, China currently produces something like 4 to 5 times the amount of steel than the US. So, a lot of our consumer goods are made from Chinese steel, and I have no idea what percent of Chinese steel is from recycled scrap. (However, I suspect it is nowhere nearly as high as the US for the simple reason that they don't has as much stuff to scrap. Though there is a global market for scrap steel, like almost everything else.)

I understand scrap is well sorted before and at the steelworks to obtain the correct parameters. In the UK engineering steels are made from arc melted scrap.

I used to work on 2 sites [in IT not metallurgy]. I know they used to geiger counter the delivery trucks to exclude radioactive stuff and I did hear jokes about 'boiling off the Lead' - but I can't confirm that!

It isn't really hard to separate zinc from galvanized steel, you 'only' need electricity...

If we are to survive as an industrial society in the face of decling supplies of ff ,It seems tht it will be necessary to recycle lots of things far more efficiently than we do at present.

It probably will require a hard fought political battle to bring this about but the savings could be enormous in energy and resources.

Some ideas that might work -no more plastic food containers-and only a couple of dozen or so dozen or so standard sized glass refillable containers-these could be used almost indefinitely until broken and would not require thier return to the original user.

The mandated use of only certain easily recycled plastics and synthetic fibers in automobiles, with a mandatory fee collected at the time of new car sale to be used to pay labor to disassemble car into easily recycled constituent parts at end of life.

The establishment of some sort of green durability standard for consumer goods-example toasters warranted money back if inoperable for five years get the shiny logo-those that aren 't are subject to a progressive junk tax to encourage the manufacturer and retailer to do better,the shorter the warranty the higher the tax.

A sales tax exemption for the purchase of larger containers of non perishables or locally grown and processed foods.

A garbage tax on packaging materials-lots of products seem to be in containers worth more than the product these days.

The elimination of some noxious chemicals from consumer products to make it easier to safely compost common wastes such as lawn clippings and fallen leaves as garden mulches.

Plastic food containers may be the last thing we need to give up.  World production of terephalic acid was only 30 million tons in 2006, per Wikipedia.  At ~360 pounds per barrel, that's about 2 day's worth of world oil consumption—easily created from carbon captured as biomass even if we can't recycle it.

Even if plastics have to be "downcycled" or used as fuel instead of recycled back to monomer, the amount of plastic used each year is so small compared to vehicle fuel that we can easily afford it at current rates.

A durability standard is a great idea. It seems almost everything bought today is designed to break as soon as possible forcing you to go for a new one.

And dont get me started on construction materials.

I was under the impression that thousands of Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks were recalled due to improperly processed recycled steel in the frames which was rusting out. My stepdaughter was given one and a half times the blue-book value of her truck as part of the recall program.

At a 75% recycle rate, 5.6% of the original is left after 10 cycles, not 0.1%.


at 24 cycles it is 0.1%

It seems to me that a lot more needs to be done before stuff ends up on the scrap heap. We used to repair stuff, TVs, appliances, etc. Now we just throw them out. Stuff is no longer designed to be repaired. Once stuff is thrown on the scrap pile, it is mixed in with a lot of other stuff, and already a big problem is created.

One of the greatest crimes -- well, no, these days it pales, and there are so many -- is (was) the cash-for-clunkers program. The engines of the old cars were destroyed by pouring sodium silicate in them. Also the use of generic parts, standardized sizes and replacement is needed. And after this long life comes to end, cannibalization is the next step, because some parts will still have life left in them. Standardization would facilitate all this.

And when parts or wholes do finally die, they should still not go on the scrap heap, but to special sites.

Waste and difficult re-use and recycling is built into so much of our technology. We could stretch things out (a lot?) longer with designs that took these things into account.

Roughly 90% of the energy used by a car is in the operation of the vehicle, and only about 10% of the energy for the manufacture of car. Considering that the cash for clunkers program only bought very low mpg cars and that the replacement had to be of reasonable mpg, it should result in a net saving of energy.

One reason they pour sodium silicate into the engines is because those engines are energy wasting machines that are better off destroyed.

PS: Overall I'm strongly opposed to the cash for clunkers program because it occurred at a period of time when the US is extremely heavily indebted at both the government and private levels, and nonproductive capital expenditure (cars and houses primarily) should be kept to a minimum.

I am extremely suspicious of the 90% and 10% figures. Say a car gets 20mpg and lives to 200,000mi. Say gas cost $2/gal. Then that's $40k for the fuel. But the energy going into its construction is approx $4k. What does the car cost? $20-30k? What's behind the other costs? None of them translate into energy? All profit? What a racket! Why did they need a bailout?

Do I believe that the destruction of the engines was even in part out of a desire to save energy? No. First of all, why couldn't they have been retrofitted to improve efficiency? I doubt that all the milelage was lost in the engine block. Second, could they not be used for alternative purposes -- backup generators, etc, where efficiency is not so important?

The real reason was to prevent these cars from entering the after market, being shipped overseas, etc. Destruction of capital, excess inventory -- which happens in every capitalist crisis. The same thing is happening in the housing market.

I drive a 93 BMW (stick shift) which had 130k mi on it when I bought it. It got almost 35mpg on the open road. Now 7 or so years later it has > 190k, and gets only 30mpg. What happened? I cannot prove but strongly suspect ethanol. If they were serious about improving mileage they wouldn't be pushing ethanol. For that matter, if they were really serious, they wouldn't be pushing cars!

90% for fuel and 10% for manufacturing is a commonly used figure. A car costs more because it takes more than just energy to make it. There are probably hundreds of hours of labor behind all the components/shipping/sales. For instance a pulley will start with mining/recycling the steel to make it, and then it goes through all the other steps in manufacturing/transport before it gets into the car, and then the car has to be transported/sold. Rinse and repeat for every other part in the car.

All the things you mention consume energy in one way or another! The labor is fed, transported, etc -- the metal, the transport of the car, and so forth. The 90/10 accounting is apparently the for energy inputs in only the narrowest possible sense. Yes, "rinse and repeat for every other part of the car". What energy IS included in the 10%? I'd prefer to see that.

And then your stuck in the EROI trap.

How much energy was invested by the wife of the worker who made his sandwiches the day he fitted the part to the car?

It doesn't make sense to count the energy consumption of feeding and housing the labor force behind the car. If those workers weren't building, transporting, financing and selling cars, they'd still be consuming resources just by being alive and taking up space on the planet. Those people don't just disappear if we stop buying cars. You could make an adjustment for personal income since consumption is proportional to income. You could also make a relative value judgement about the ecological worth of the things they build.

The energy in that ten percent appears to be composed of the embodied energy of the raw materials, so all the energy it took to get those to market, plus the energy needed to process all of those materials and make a car. The average auto at 20mpg over 110,000 miles needs about 300,000kWh of energy via fuel and the fuel's energy requirements, mostly nat gas. If we look at just the materials of the car, eg the steel, plastic, rubber, etc, we get about 12,000+kWh of embodied energy in those raw materials, which is about half of the original embodied energy. It seems reasonable that the other half is used fabricating, transporting, assembling, etc... All those parts for the car from whatever raw materials.

The average auto at 20mpg

From your figures I think you are quoting the imperial 4.54 litre gallon so:

That is very low. My current 10 year old diesel has averaged 52 mpg over the last 80,000 miles. I know this because I have records of all my fuel input and mileage, for "mileage claimes" and tax purposes. Since diesels account for over 50% of the european market, for europe i suspect 20mpg is well below the real average.

From my own experience of driving new and older diesels, lower 50 mpg range is typical for a medium hatchback car fitted with a diesel ICE. The "upto" 70 mpg manufactures love to quote on their "Classic FM adverts" will nowhere near be achieved as a normal "real world" driving average consumption for most drivers.

It's pretty typical in the U.S. given the ~2 ton barges that are supposedly cars. ;)

I imagine there's a spread due to average BTE given different powertrains, but I doubt it's going to push the embodied energy of construction higher than 20%. A medium hatchback across the pond is quite small, so while it's more fuel efficient, it's also less energy intensive to make a 1+ ton vehicle than a 2 ton vehicle. If high mileage vehicles tend to get driven more, then that may wipe out any advantage from higher FE.

If high mileage vehicles tend to get driven more, then that may wipe out any advantage from higher FE.

From personal experience and that of others I have spoken to, I think this is a valid point. Initially one buys a more economical vehicle and initially gets a cost saving in fuel. As time goes on, this cost benefit migrates to a tendancy to do more travelling. Its not quite Jevons' paradox, but a tendancy to fill the "space available" type phenomenon.

It's called the rebound effect in most cases IIRC, since efficiency increases tend to not be optimal due to personal behavior, outside of stuff like appliances. If the rebound results in more fuel use than before the efficiency increase, then it's called Jevon's paradox or the someweirdname postulate, but that's really rare.


The scrappage scheme is a gross over simplification of reality. In the uk it is for cars 10 years or older. It is quite posssible for a 5 year old car to have the same engine technology as a 10 year old car. It is quite possible for the 10 year old car to be in good condition with low mileage but the 5 year old to be poor condition with high mileage. It is quite possible for a 10 year old car to be as fuel efficient as a brand new car of similar size. Its a tax rebate scheme, subsidy or what ever you want to call it, designed to bailout an industry that has over capacity world wide. It also takes no account of annual mileage or engine size or any other factor that dictate a car's effect on the environment.

Manufacturing and disposing of cars not only uses energy, but it creates waste that has to be disposed of. I expect the 10% figure is derived by looking at the specific energy consumption of all the processes involved say joules/kg. Eg paint, steel, plastics etc. It will be an estimate based on what can be quantified and likely ignores what can't. You are justified being suspicious.

If you are lucky enough to buy a new car that actually proves more fuel effecient than the one you replace, which is very doublful if one buys like for like, (don't go on official mpg figures drive it on the real road) it could easily take 100,000 miles or more before the theoretical environmental benefits take order. You will never get any financial benefit from your new depreciating asset, no matter how optimistic you are.

While at the other end of the technical spectrum, plasma incineration has some interesting potential, with the idea being to get back to basic constituent elements. I don't know how the energy usage works out, but its interesting in theory at least.

Another thing to keep in mind is mixing what William McDonough refers to as technical and biological nutrients. Its bad news to mix something like wood fiber, which is biodegradable, with plastics which are recyclable, thus creating something that is neither. Yet these products often get touted as environmentally friendly.

Huntington Beach, CA has, in my opinion, the best trash disposal company around (and it is employee owned). We have tied with Fresno for having the highest rate of diversions in California. Rainbow Disposal: is launching into converting food scraps into liquid fertilizer, composting of green waste, and is a leader in investigating technologies of gasification to create a fuel for their natural gas fueled fleet of vehicles.

What Hunting Beach is accomplishing is certainly laudable. There is, however, an aspect of green material (waste) disposal that is aggravating. Green material can be contaminated (by law) by up to 1% by dry weight of other material, i.e. practically anything. Most of this disposal takes place on farm land. Sometimes you can literally not see the green waste for all the plastic. On the farm, as someone who picks it up if he can see it, this is frustrating. A couple of feet away on the public street you could be fined $1000 for one piece of plastic, but the farmer can legally trash his own property. Los Angeles is notorious for delivering trashy loads. It's free, of course.

I know virtually nothing about this kind of recycling so I will stick to a very general comment on some of the very general claims made in this article.

One such claim is that mining anthropogenic deposits will never pay well. The reasoning behind the claim is not spelled out so I can only guess at what assumptions lie behind it. My guess is that, other than the extinction of industrial civilization, alternatives to BAU have not been considered by the author.
It is not difficult to imagine a future in which skilled recyclers could be paid quote well. What's needed for that future to come about is for the resource to be valuable. A monetary economy in which people are generally paid for their labor of course would also be needed of course. Is it that hard to imagine?
2008 is portrayed as a time in which prices were high. But it should be obvious to anyone taking the long view that most 2008 commodity prices were very low! The year-to-year movements in prices have little relevance to a process requiring an economic transformation that can only unfold over decades at best (centuries, more likely). Prices are cheap because energy and natural resources are still relatively plentiful, considering generally available technology and skills.
In a monetary economy, you can not expect the powerful and well-connected to get serious about recycling unless there is some monetary incentive. Such an incentive could take the form of artificially high prices brought about by the resource-use constraints that a sustainability-conscious society would impose on its economy. But as long as only the most marginal elements of society are willing to do this work, it will indeed remain very poorly paid.

Other claims made about the lack of energy or money supposedly needed for recycling are common TOD canards. Energy scarcity is precisely what would be required for people to take recycling seriously. As long as energy remains plentiful, exploitation of low-quality natural resources will be an attractive alternative. As to money, the lack of investment in recycling is merely a symptom of the prevailing low prices.

In closing, though what people are pioneering in Brazil sounds great, "waste management" is a bit of oxymoron. Waste is a failure of management... or at least a failure of governance.

I guess that scrap-mining will become a reasonably lucrative business relatively soon.
Even if events result in a fast and major cull, the sheer numbers of people on the planet insure that a substantial portion of the knowledge of humanity will remain extant, at least in the minds of the survivors, and -except for cd's and tapes - the sheer number of our records in print and vinyl etc. should ensure that some of those media survive for a while.

If we should experience a major cull, and those that remain are able to adapt to the world we have created, we will do exactly as we have always done, and go for easy pickings first. And there would be a lot of stuff lying around. It would take some time before that got used up.

So I'm kind of hoping that large-scale garbage tip mining is a long way away. Garbage tip mining would mean we were really out of everything easier to mine.

It seems that the world's bourgeoisie is being enticed into a last fling, pumping a last bubble. That will push oil prices to new extremes, and cause another crash, but this one will be worse, because people will still be feeling the bite of the last one. And there will be more shortages, and worse weather, and more hungry people, more angry people, plus the people who already have quite enough of having western armies on their land, and killing them.
That could launch something quite unexpected, especially in an age of stuttering resources : a lot of high tech weaponry and control systems might become obsolete in the absence of charged batteries. Low tech and small scale endeavors will eventually have an edge on large scale systems(armies, states) they never had before.

Empires are about to fall, and I hope the human spirit will be allowed one more flowering in the revolutions that are bound to follow, but I don't know. Words like social, solidarity, commune are presented as suspect by the media. They want us to be self-sufficient individuals, able to take care of oneself, and just look at all those nice rich people on tv, you could have everything they have if only you work hard enough, or wish hard enough, or suck up hard enough, or whatever you have to do to become rich and maybe even famous. What are the odds that you win the lottery?
In previous revolutions, most participants were poor and uneducated, so they did what came naturally: kick out the bosses (they tried, at least). Today's masses have so much propaganda pointed at them, I wonder if they would be able to do what comes naturally. But I am probably contaminated with the disdain for the masses the elite perpetuate through (especially) higher education. (My first hour in high school : a priest introduces us to school life with the following words: 'You boys are the future elite of the country...' - this is a small farming town secondary school - later most of the us who went to university became arrogant little prats, we were better because we were smarter, and so we not only had the right but the duty to lead the -unfortunately- less educated masses to a bright and pleasant future - they're dumb you see, and they don't know any better. They need smart leaders... The odds are, you are one of those who need leaders.)

most revolutions have actually been started, funded, and guided by competing or aspiring elites, not by those unwashed masses.. the mob was a powerful, if a bit wayward, force, and there was competition to control this force, but the mob seldom initiated, or organized, or carried to completion a revolution. of course, when successful, the new elite likes to claim that its power comes from the people.. it's one of those things that people around the world seem to feel better about, even if they know (or suspect) that it's just a fantasy.

I see you have been well instructed. Robespierre and Danton led the French revolution, and Lenin and Trotsky led the Russian revolution.


The French revolution started with mobs clamoring for bread and farmers refusing to pay tithes and reclaiming stolen land. Robespierre and his ilk had to run to keep up with the demands of the mob, meanwhile trying anything (such as the guillotine) to regain control over the situation. As soon as it looked like they had subdued the fervor of the mob, they got guillotined by the right, who then installed Napoleon...

When the Russian Revolution started, most of the Bolshevik cadre were out of the country. Soviets were organized spontaneously, before Lenin and Trotsky and all their friends could rush home to grasp control of the movement...

I could go on to cite rebellions and revolts through the ages and all over the world, but one thing remains the same in every case:

Mobs start revolutions.

When the state topples and the upper class loses power, the middle class - and latterly the petite bourgeoisie - grabs power, often under the banner of 'the people', using some of the slogans of the mob to appease them, and some classic repression and culling of hotheads.

Allow me to repeat myself, for clarity's sake :

Mobs start revolutions. Leaders follow.

Revolutions are started by events so catastrophic that the larger part of society react spontaneously in a similar manner.
And the manner in which they react is often a lot more generous and empathic than we would expect, given the mountains of propaganda about heroes saving panicky crowds, or fighting brutal mobs.
Moreover, massive mob endeavors are the only thing capable of overcoming the ever-present military superiority of the powers that be.

I'm sorry to have to be the guy that tells you Santa isn't real.
The culture of leadership is a failure. Psychopaths and sociopaths are attracted to leadership, so we get quite a few monsters. And when a rare saint appears, his assassination, or absorption, incapacitates the movement.

From the clay tablets of Sumer to the interweb, the history of kings and rulers has been one of egoism, stupidity, cruelty, pillage, strife, sibling murder, incest, gluttony and more of the same. Leadership sucks.

Most places have poor recycling practices, presumably for cultural reasons. I think Germany is a good example of a fairly comprehensive waste reduction and recycling system. German companies are responsible for recycling packaging they use for their products. There is a very efficient collection system for paper, packaging as well as organic household waste. In addition, many categories of drink containers are returned to be refilled. Almost all beer bottles are reused, along with water, and most soft-drink bottles. Soft-drinks and water is usually sold in heavy-duty plastic bottles that are cleaned and refilled. Batteries, metals and electronics are also recycled at very high rates. At public events such as festivals, street fairs, etc, drinks and food are mostly served in real dishes and glasses, which are washed and reused on site.

While Germany's leadership on this issue is commendable, so far as I know, what they're doing is for the most part window-dressing. I can't say I was struck by German recycling practices when visiting. Then again I haven't been there for a while.
This article is about the recycling of industrial products anyway. We know they are pushed on consumers and wasted in Germany as well. You say electronics are recycled for instance. Do you happen to know the German recycling rate for electronics? What do they even call recycling? How do they process them?

Here are some statistics from eurostat:
For municipal waste, which probably includes electronic waste from consumers, the recycling rate, including composting, is about 65% (by weight). This seems to be the highest for the EU. Municipal waste per person per year in Germany is about average for the EU at ~560 kg (includes the weight of the stuff that will be recycled or composted). For reference, the US generates about 1200 kg /person /year of municipal waste.

I'm afraid these statistics are useless. Spain reports half the total waste per capita (in weight, which is of course a very poor measure) reported by Germany. And Sweden reports twice the German waste. Yeah right.

As to municipal waste, of Germany's neighbors, only Denmark, Switzerland and Luxembourg report more waste. And these small, wealthy countries only report a few percent more than Germany while Poland reports a lot less waste. Could it be that municipal waste is mostly a function of income and that the German window-dressing didn't change that?
Interestingly, Belgium reports a good bit less municipal waste than its neighbors. I'm not sure even those numbers are meaningful.

More on topic perhaps:
-Switzerland is reported as the leader in separate waste collection, not Germany. And Switzerland isn't doing much in that department. What Germany seems to lead in is separate collection of plastics... and by a large margin.
-Germany reportedly recycles and composts 45-50% (not 65%!) of its municipal waste. The Netherlands recycles and composts as much while Belgium does it a bit more. But France only recycles and composts about 30%.

Of course none of this tells us anything about electronics recycling or recycling of scarce materials in general. This article wasn't about mining landfills for paper, glass or even plastics.

The article is about recovery of metals not electronic waste. It is also not about scarce materials since iron, copper and aluminum are common and cheap.

I agree that the statistics probably have a wide margin of error due to differences in data collection, but the numbers for Sweden, Spain and Germany seem reasonable to me. I have lived for years in both Spain and Germany and Spain is both a poorer country and uses relatively little food packaging, which is a major source of municipal waste. I have never been to Sweden, but it is similar in wealth to Germany and has less aggressive packaging laws.

The premise of the article is that metals such as copper are going to become scarce. The author said as much in the comments.

The difference in total per capita waste between Spain, Germany and Sweden is not explained by municipal waste. Contrary to what you're implying, Sweden has the least municipal waste according to these stats.

Most plastic waste in Switzerland is actually burned in power plants. Separation of metals, glass, and paper
is very prominent here though. At least in Zurich, enforcement is strict and penalties for putting recyclables
(which do not include plastic) in regular trash are very high. Composting of household kitchen waste is pretty minimal, but collection of 'green waste', garden clippings etc, is regular and rather well followed. Commercial kitchens are required to separate compostable food waste, and as you can imagine in a country this regulated,
compliance is quite high.

It's nothing like that in the Swiss far-west. What you're talking about are not national policies but it wouldn't surprise me if they were widespread enough to propel Switzerland to #1.

Perhaps what biophiliac experienced is peculiar to some regions of Germany as well.

Slightly off topic, but since so many oil drum posters have commented on the need for developed countries to inculude embedded emissions, here is a quote from the BBC news:

Greenhouse gas emissions created by Britons are probably twice as bad as figures suggest, says the government's new chief energy scientist

The article specifically refers to embedded emissions. So once again whist politicians try to mislead the public, our "uninformed" lot of contributers here were once again ahead of the game. The same goes for the financial crisis no one saw it comming, oh yes they did, just not the political elite.

So what about peak oil, most UK politicians responsible for energy policy, particularly the former Mr Wicks, fervently deny this as well.

Good luck.

I've just thought of something and maybe you can help me. It's about a relation between energy invested per mass of refined minerals obtained. For example which is the relation along the years of the energy requiered to obtain 1 ton of copper.

I think such a graphic display would be a nightmare! I bet we now need a huge amount of energy to extract the same amount of copper than the one we needed at the begining of the 20th century.

Does anyone knows if there's such a study?


Its probably not exactly what your asking, but try watching Chris Martenson's economic crash course chapter 18. Watching the entire 20 chapters brings food for thought. Chapter 18 discusses energy and cost of minining mineral resources and by chance picks copper as one of his examples.

I don't know if this link will work.