The most recycled waste

The most recycled waste is not glass, aluminum cans, plastic, or electronics, according to the EPA’s Municipal Solid Waste Report, last compiled with 2008 data, which I was referred to from a recent Scientific American article.   It is car batteries, almost all of which are recycled.  I actually have wondered what happens when they die, but I’m so glad to know that they ARE recycled.   Just a nice tidbit of knowledge for you there.   Recycling is more or less on the rise overall (see graph from the EPA report), thank goodness, despite the persistent folk out there who firmly believe that recycling has no net benefit and therefore don’t even try.

Recycling is obviously on the minds of environmentally-conscious chemists (and other people, I hear other people exist) – but when you think of recycling and trying to green up your daily work life, what do you think of?  Recyclable catalyst, acetone recycling, reading articles on your computer screen instead of on paper (including opting-out of C&EN’s print issues which, consequently, has decreased the degree to which I use it as a procrastination tool and the depth in which I read the non-science concentrates).  But what do YOU do?  I’m really curious to know.  Do you just shrug and carry on?

Guilt about the waste that we generate – and I can only attest to synthetic organic chemists and those who deal with tissue culture when it comes to the byproducts of science – is so, so heavy on my shoulders.  I’m not a crunchy tree-hugger (despite being a vegetarian, yes), but I AM uncomfortable with generating a crapload of waste in order to obtain a few pieces of paper – a couple JACS articles, a Ph.D., etc.  I know I’m not the only one that is frustrated to burn through so much physical material in the name of progress and intellectual/industrial pursuit.  But what else can you and I do, besides cut down on our chromatography, not use disposable items, recycle our acetone and keep all of our data and journals electronic?   How about big corporations?  Are they making efforts at sustainability so that they can claim they are, or to actually conserve resources?  Does it even matter?  Take for example the new SunChips bag released by Frito-Lay/PepsiCo, the first compostable chip bag ever.  It’s a start, no?

[I didn’t mean for my first post to be so depressing!  It’s an honor to be here and I hope to bring you more lively topics in the future.  Both the Chemistry Blog (naturally) and Chemical Crystallinity are on a list of top chemistry blogs for students; I don’t know why this list was generated from the particular source it is hosted on, but it is pretty reasonable.]


  1. …Let’s not even talk about how much ITO glass we use for solar research. …Ouch.

  2. Welcome, Crystallinity!

    It is my understanding that much organic solvent waste is incinerated as fuel for cement kilns. So it is put to a use, so to speak. Obviously, by using this method, you’re generating (lots of) CO2, so it’s not entirely ideal.

    • The alternative is to run the entire production on coal. By burning solvent, paint and tires the amount of oil and coal is reduced.
      Since we need cement we have to face that an enormous amount of CO2 will be released, not only from the fuel combustion but from the chemical process per se.

  3. Thanx for letting us know that they are recycled. But i am just guessing what happens to the Acid inside. Also do they recycle the toxic metals as cadmium , lead etc.

  4. Thanx for letting us know that they are recycled. But i am just guessing what happens to the Acid inside. Also do they recycle the toxic metals as cadmium

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