‘Middleware’ in the Recycling Process

The practice of recycling materials within a system in order to conserve resources is not governed by one group, but maintained by a diverse, worldwide network. Recycling is becoming more and more important because it saves energy, keeps the environment cleaner, and reduces material waste compared to making material from “scratch”. Because it is so important to recycle, it only makes sense that we invest in designing efficient systems for carrying it out. Even though the concept of recycling obviously follows a cyclic pattern, it can also be described by a series of levels or layers.

The topmost layer is where the consumer, decides what to purchase (recycled material or not) and, after using the material, decides what to do with the waste. Basically, this is the stage where the materials are actually being used. This stage also determines what materials will participate in the recycling process in the future: does the individual choose to recycle or not to recycle?

After the materials are used, they are either discarded into landfills, thus leaving the recycling system, or they fall to the bottom layer, which is composed of all the used materials before they have been processed. At this lowest point, the materials have to go through the middle layer of the system in order for the materials to be usalbe again.

This ‘middleware’ of the recycling process is composed of all that it takes to turn the waste from the bottom layer back to the finished product at the fingertips of consumers in the top layer. There is a system for discarding and collecting the recyclable materials, and there are rules in place for what can and cannot be recycled. Waste collection facilities sometimes send out trucks to collect from inside neighborhoods, or companies that use, for example, a large amount of cardboard, make agreements with recycling companies to recycle their cardboard. Other groups, often nonprofit, independently promote the collection of recycling by setting up collections and delivering them to recycling plants directly. After the materials are brought to the factory, they then must be sorted, ground up, and cleaned. Only then can the “pure” materials be re-made into a new water bottle, for example. The manufacturers make the new product with the recycled material and send them off to be sold.

At this point, the middleware of recycling is quite well established, growing and developing new technologies, but the overall system remains constant. A goal of this system is to promote energy efficiency through recycling more materials and by making the recycling process itself more efficient. In the United States at least, there are certain government regulations for the recycling infrastructure in order to make the system run smoothly and consistently. Resin codes, for instance, are used to identify the type of plastic contained in a product to help organize the sorting process. Glasses are sorted by color, and some metals can be separated through the use of magnets. Other materials are sorted by weight or size by machines. Procedures such as these create standards, which help manufacturers know what materials they are using. (source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling#Recycling_codes)

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One Response to ‘Middleware’ in the Recycling Process

  1. caseylynn122 says:

    This example makes a lot of sense to me, it is easy to visualize the different middleware processes. Do you think another step in the process could be the marketing of what can be recycled/what is made of recycled materials? Are consumers more likely to buy things they can recycle? Also, I think an important middleware aspect is that the consumers have to make the choice themselves to recycle products which may require sorting the goods or taking them to a designated area. Some areas make this process easier by letting consumers put all recyclables in one bin and then sorting them later.

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