RecycleMatch seeks to match bulk waste with people who can use it

Paul Raven @ 09-06-2010

File under “business models I really wish I’d thought of first”: RecycleMatch seeks to match…

… waste streams and under valued resources with potential users of the resources, to help create new revenues and savings for the companies participating – while at the same time having a positive impact on the environment. Our goal is to create an industrial ecosystem in which the use of energy and materials are optimized, waste is minimized, and there is an economically viable role for every product of a manufacturing process.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? And what a great idea – an eBay for corporate by-products! [via MetaFilter]

One wonders how well it would be policed if it took off, though; if a system like this got big enough (think eBay at its peak), it could become a clandestine clearing channel for getting rid of waste that you’re not supposed to have produced in the first place, or acquiring waste that you intend to use for purposes rather less than environmentally-minded…

Garage 3D printers working with ceramics, bioplastics

Paul Raven @ 17-02-2010

3D-printed clay vesselWatching the backyard fabrication and 3D printing scene is fascinating, not least because it’s developing so quickly – a mere pipedream just five years ago, but currently expanding its capabilities in leaps and bounds. One thing that will increase the versatility of these systems is a wider selection of materials with which to work… and while you can already print in sugar (with other foodstuffs remaining strictly hypothetical at this point), we’ve got people brewing up their own stove-top bioplastic blends [via BoingBoing] and tweaking their fabbers to work with clay [via Chairman Bruce; image clipped from linked article].

The former is promising because it gives hobby-level users the opportunity to work in cheap biodegradable plastics by using off-the-shelf ingredients that can be scored at the corner store (e.g. glycerin, vinegar); that recipe has a way to go before being usable, but you can bet your boots that other fab-fanatics will be working to refine it and sharing their results online… many eyes make bugs shallow, after all (though Microsoft’s Shawn Hernan would disagree). And being able to print in clay really opens up the arts & crafts market to the fabbers; consumer-level 3D design tools should lead to a minor renaissance in ceramics design.

I wonder if this will provide some counterbalance to the seemingly inevitable loss of jobs in the US due to the rise of robotic, computer-controlled and/or outsourced manufacturing? Short runs of custom designs (and those very simple products for which the current profit margins of Chinese made-for-export factories will not hold forever) would seem ideally suited to small local businesses based around a few fabbers, an oven or kiln and a finishing bench… and if someone can work out a way to scale down plastics recycling so it can be used to generate the necessary materials using locally-sourced waste, you’ve got a whole new economic sub-circuit operating at a local level.

Tagging and tracking the trash

Paul Raven @ 16-07-2009

dumpsterEver wondered where your rubbish goes when it leaves your house? The New Scientist people obviously have, and so they’re teaming up with MIT to find out:

The team behind the experiment, MIT’s Senseable City lab, led by Carlo Ratti, have made a device that is about the size of a small matchbox and that works like a cell phone – without the phone bit. A SIM card inside the chip blips out its location every 15 minutes, the signal is picked up by local cell phone antennae and the chip’s location is relayed back to MIT.

Ratti’s team and New Scientist have already deployed a test run of 50 tracked items of trash ranging from paper cups to computers in Seattle. Several thousand more will be released in Seattle and New York garbage cans later this summer and we’ll chuck a batch into the London trash for good measure.

This should be an interesting experiment, and something like a first step toward Chairman Bruce’s “spimes” – objects whose entire life-cycle – cradle to grave, as they say – is trackable and searchable. Perhaps, when we have a better understanding of what happens to all the stuff we throw away and instantly forget, we’ll stop being so casual about our throw-away culture – and about the manufacturing and packaging practices of the companies we buy things from. As New Scientist puts it:

Think of what happens when the garbage men go on strike. We complain that they’re not doing their job – but where did all that trash come from to begin with?

[image by mugley]

Teenage mutant ninja microbes – white biotech, home fabbing and the end of plastics

C Sven Johnson @ 15-04-2009

Sven Johnson worries about the pitfalls of the shiny new near-future… but not so you don’t have to. In this month’s Future Imperfect, he looks at what might go wrong when prosumer-grade fabrication technology incorporates biotech-powered materials recycling.

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

Continue reading “Teenage mutant ninja microbes – white biotech, home fabbing and the end of plastics”

Recycled plastics make crims harder to catch

Paul Raven @ 07-04-2009

heaps of plastic for recyclingThe increasing prevalence of recycled plastics in the manufacturing industry – doubtless due in part to the currently-struggling Chinese trash-trawling industry – means that a lot of everyday objects are now made from what you might call “mongrel plastics”, a blend of different chemicals with similar physical properties. Which is good news… unless you’re a detective who needs to lift fingerprints from the stuff, that is.

The recycled products may look similar, but the physical and chemical properties differ so widely from the plastics they replace that the techniques honed over recent decades to lift fingerprints off plastics are no longer effective, he says.

Traditionally plastics were made from just one or two chemical building blocks, arranged in a predictable structure. But even plastics with just a trace of recycled feedstock become much more complex. Although consumers are encouraged to separate their plastics for recycling, the resulting plastics are inevitably more of a mongrel product than the pedigree plastics they replace.

Now there’s a nice little rogue state niche industry waiting to be exploited – custom mongrel plastics that defy forensics efforts. The cost of hiring an out-of-work plastics geek would be offset by the higher prices you could charge to your secretive customers. [image by meaduva]

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