Mon, Aug 13, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Recycling is more than just sorting the trash

By Chen Wen-ching 陳文卿

As crude oil prices have climbed, the cost of all kinds of raw materials have followed. For example, prices for soybeans and corn have risen by 30 percent or more. This in turn has increased the cost of feed for pig farmers, which has been passed along through higher pork prices. Now is clearly the time to strongly promote renewable resources.

When looking at Taiwan's feed costs, Japan provides an example for our consideration. Although Japan's livestock industry isn't well developed and the country doesn't produce much grain, its Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has set a goal for boosting production of animal feed. It hopes Japan can go from producing 24 percent of its own feed in 2003 to 35 percent in 2015. Of this, Japan hopes to provide 100 percent of its coarse fodder itself, such as crude fat and coarse fiber. But Japan doesn't have much arable land, so doing so will be easier said than done. Achieving those goals will have to begin with recycling of organic resources. The most important parts of this will include discarded waste from food mills, expired food products at retailers and kitchen waste from restaurants.

The conditions for implementing such plans are even better in Taiwan. This is because this country has already established a complete kitchen waste recycling system. Sanitation teams collect and sort kitchen scraps and provide them as pig feed, but supply doesn't meet demand, and sometimes there is a rush among pig farmers to the scraps.

Compared with other types of feed, which rely on imports for 80 percent or more of their materials, the costs of using recycled resources instead is very low. On average, a pig can completely digest the leftovers produced by 20 to 30 people, which means that there is a lot of demand. Combining this with organic waste from food mills and produce markets, I believe Taiwan can boost its self-supplied feed.

In fact, I have an even bolder idea. Although pig farmers can create river pollution, the overall social cost should also include the environmental contributions pigs make by disposing of organic waste. We should use this information to estimate the reasonable number of pigs that can be bred.

Another example is building materials. A gravel shortage has led to increased prices. The cost of raw materials such as rebar and concrete has become more expensive in recent years, driving up housing prices. At this point we should encourage, or even compel, the use of reusable building materials.

Japan has a law to promote a "cyclical society" under its Basic Environmental Law. This stipulates yearly goals for recycling and reusing food waste, construction byproducts, home appliances, packaging containers and discarded vehicles. To reach these goals, demolishers must consider what parts of a building can be recycled and separate them from the rest. In the same way, new buildings must be constructed with some reused materials. Builders must plan this out from the very beginning so that the recycled materials have a place to go.

So although Taiwan spares no effort in promoting recycling, we might also want to establish a "recycling and reuse law" to boost recycling rates by industries. But we seem to be missing one link: Recycling is mandatory, but use of recycled materials is not.

Many people still have doubts about using recycled resources because of cost and quality considerations. This has created a vicious cycle in which it is difficult to expand the market for recycled products, with companies unwilling to get involved. But we could begin by giving government organizations an annual quota of recycled products to must use and implement a "buy green" policy, and then expand it to have private corporations participate. After it was ensured that the recycled resources market was stable, companies would naturally be willing to invest in research and development to boost products quality and performance.

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