Waste, Recycling, and Space: Where Are Our Recycling Robots?

Leave a comment

What is the world’s ugliest building? Esquire says it’s the Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea. The interesting thing about the hotel is that it’s only ugly because it’s not finished, but if you finished it and get it a nice color and flashy lights it could very well be the coolest hotel outside of Las Vegas. It looks like a spaceship, or a spired pyramid of sorts. If you spruced it up it would look awesome. Heck, you could even go as far as to make it a space-themed hotel!
    So what’s the problem with the hotel other than it’s ugly? Well, apparently it’s unfinished and it will never be finished. That means that North Korea has poured millions of dollars into this thing only to quit a good portion of the way through for whatever reason. Rumors are it’s because there is some structural problems, but I don’t buy that. My guess is that they simply ran out of money, or stopped funding it, or some such. It seems too idiotic to build something so massive only to get most of the way through and realize “oh, well that’s not going to work”. The North Koreans are not that stupid. Sure, they might think it smart to shoot test missiles over Japanese waters, but since we’re dealing with a nation that has some idea what its doing, even if some of those things are rather stupid, we can assume they’re just not dumb enough to screw up on a project of this size.
    Additionally, if they never finish this hotel we can expect it will just rot. Not only did they waste money, but they also wasted a lot of material that could be used for other things. It’d be interesting to figure out how many houses or apartment complexes could be build from the materials of this hotel. This is a regular thing for us humans. We’re incredibly wasteful. All of us are, even in those little countries that think they aren’t. You’re lying to yourselves; you’re wasteful, just not as much. But this isn’t a contest. One pound of waste or ten pounds of waste is still waste we have to deal with. The U.S. might be one of the most wasteful countries in the world, but to point the blame at us is somewhat hypocritical. Until you’ve achieved zero-waste, you can’t really complain.
    We don’t just waste materials on the planet either; we waste in space. Sure, space is this vast, seemingly never-ending place, but space debris can be dangerous not only to us (the folks on the ground) but to the astronauts (those folks up in space). What do we do about it? How should I know? I don’t work for NASA. There are probably options, but are they worth spending the money on? A lot of the debris in space falls down of its own accord, burns up in the atmosphere, and is never seen again. Some of it stays up there for quite a while. Some of the oldest debris is from the 50s. One thing we really have to start paying attention to on this planet is our waste output, not just in space but everywhere. We could probably manage to ship a lot of our junk into space and shoot it off at the sun where it would burn up entirely–wouldn’t it be great to do this with nuclear waste? The problem is that any waste we send up to space is a potential disaster in the making. Space travel, as we are all painfully aware, is not 100% reliable. If anything it’s only about 90% reliable, which might be good, but isn’t what we really need for something as dangerous as moving waste. If one of those 10% times happens there will be massive problems for thousands, maybe even millions of people, especially if we’re sending anything more harmful than some typical garbage stuff from your average household. One screw up could ruin the lives of a lot of people. Probably our best bet for shooting waste into space is not doing it at all, or building a space elevator–there is a company actually doing that by the way, or at least planning it, since a space elevator is much more reliable than a space ship at this point.
    What about recycling? Well, unfortunately there is only so much we can do at this point for recycling. Currently most of us aren’t recycling everything. When I say “most of us” I mean everyone on the planet and by “everything” I mean anything and everything from banana peels to Styrofoam. One of the easiest ways to combat the ever-growing piles of waste is to develop the means to recycle everything. The problem with that is getting people to recycle properly. In all honesty I am not the type who likes separating the recycling into cans and cardboard, etc. Other people are like this too. The problem is that those out there who want recycling to be done by everyone are also trying to force laws on the rest of us that say we have to do it. The legal route is the wrong route because often times it punishes good people on top of the bad people. Some cities require you to pay a recycling tax and put your recycling in the little green bin. Some cities have fees and legal action if you don’t do what they want. Rather than thinking about this from a humanistic perspective, law makers are taking a rather dictatorial approach: “You will recycle or else”.
    The greatest way to fix the recycling system is to create a machine that automatically does it all. Create a machine that takes garbage, digs out all the materials and puts them in their own sections, breaks it all down so it can be used again, and repeats itself. This would be a lot easier than we might think. With the Japanese doing things with robots that were unheard of twenty years ago and the U.S. building combat drones, it would only take some really smart people and some good old-fashioned funding to get such a project off the ground. There are a lot of materials that can be recycled that most of us don’t recycle at all. You CAN recycle pizza boxes, but recycling places don’t like taking them because they’re difficult to process with all that grease and moldy cheese. Milk containers are a similar problem. With a machine we could easily make processing more simplistic. It could rip the materials apart from a molecular level and split everything up so that the cardboard or plastic goes in one place and all the organic/food matter goes to another. Then it could just fry all that organic stuff into oblivion and recycle all the useful stuff.
    We have factories that are highly automated. We have factories that make millions of chocolate bars a day, all automated, in rather complex methods. It isn’t easy making chocolate, or chocolate bars, or getting peanuts in the ride condition, etc. Machines–robots–are doing these sorts of things. Why couldn’t we get a robot to do our recycling for us? It’d save all of us the time and make us all feel a little warmer inside knowing that our little wasteful nation is really turning things around.
    So, where are our recycling robots? When are we going to get them? And maybe we should send a couple with ion engines up into space to collect all that debris and turn it into key chains or something. Bring on the robotic revolution!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

Leave a Reply