You've probably heard the maxim, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." Out of context it's a little difficult to decipher, especially to one such as me, raised in the era of plenty that was the 80s. The statement is that you should wring every bit of value out of something, and if you don't have it, then live in such a way that its absence isn't a hardship. That's old-school, Depression-era economy.
Some municipalities - such as the one where I live - offer curbside recycling. Put the bin out and your recyclables magically disappear, to be responsibly made into new recyclables. Only maybe not. Our little town did a review on the process and wasn't able to nail down what happens with its recycled plastics after the trucks dump the load. There's a better than even chance they go to - where else? - China to be burned as fuel. It's not a surprise considering how lax some of China's environmental safeguards have been in the past, though I don't know what their current standards are, or how well they're enforced.
But do you have to assume it requires lax standards to burn plastics? If they're made from petroleum, then they're just bound hydrocarbons. Unbind those hydrocarbons. Be free, petroleum! Make heat for someone! There are probably emissions scrubbers that can handle the exhaust from that kind of fuel source and make it at least as clean as, oh I don't know, something dirtier, like coal. If we're burning coal and not asphyxiating entire populations downwind, we can probably burn our own plastics right here, too. We paid for those plastics, this way we get to double the use of our own money, right here.
Aluminum, steel, plastics and lots of other stuff are not that difficult to recycle. In fact, the energy in aluminum is mostly in making it. It takes only a fraction as much energy - less than a tenth - to recycle an aluminum can as it does to make a new one.
American cars - and Japanese, European and all the others - are scrapped at the ends of their lives (entirely too soon, but I've already ranted a bit about that) and getting reduced to raw materials and sent elsewhere. Why is that, exactly? Have we no factories here?
In fact, we do. They are idled because the companies that built things don't build things anymore. Costs went up, payrolls got unwieldy, and cheaper offerings were available from overseas. Goodbye, factories. Goodbye, factory jobs. Hello, trade imbalance.
That steel is here. That aluminum is here. It's already in the States, let's build something with it here. Can't afford to build it? Why not? What's going to be needed is a change in paradigm. Paychecks don't have to be as big as they've become, unions don't have to be a club held over the heads of the factory owners.
You want to see a real union that has its mission where its mouth is, find one that owns the company and the factories. That's a real union that has both the workers' and the companies' best interests in mind at all times.
We're auctioning off our own capacity as a productive nation. No one aspires to the factory job, no one wants to be a farmer, no one is willing to roll his sleeves up for the gritty work that takes sweat and effort. We want air conditioning, cushy chairs and shuffled papers. Note, I say "no one," but of course there are people that willingly saddle up for those jobs, but the proportion isn't what it used to be.
I'm shopping for American-made electronics and coming up short. The list is ridiculous, a few peculiar little custom jobbies that are components of something else. Actual consumer goods are assembled overseas from components manufactured overseas. Why is that: cheap labor, fewer overhead costs. It's still cheaper to build it somewhere else, load it into a ship and send it here than it is to just build it here. If more people were satisfied with $10/hr, that might change.
$10/hr pays the bills. If not, you've got problems.
Overhead costs are crazy. Steel made elsewhere gets used elsewhere. Steel made here...wait, are there any American steel mills anymore? In its heyday the industry in America employed hundreds of thousands of workers, now the rolls are around 158,000 total. Bummer. I can't find what American rolls are for aluminum production, but Alcoa, #3 producer of aluminum worldwide and I think the largest American producer, has rolls of 58,000 or so. That's worldwide rolls.
So where do we get inexpensive materials for use in American manufacturing? Right here. Scrap that car but don't send the metal away. Keep it here. Cans too. Plastic, waste veggie oil, everything. Be willing to pay an extra buck for the Made in the USA label, be willing to settle for a buck an hour less on the paycheck. It'll come back to you, believe it. It'll come back in the form of more jobs on American soil when you want them. It'll come back in the form of greater national security, a stronger dollar that buys more. What does it matter if you don't make as much money, when your money buys more? Remember when comic books were 25 cents? I do. They're $3.00 each, now. And they're thinner, with more ads. Less content, higher price. That's inflation. Settle for a little less income, be happy with a slightly higher price, the results eventually slew back around to an America that relies on itself. It'll hurt for a while, but it'll be worth it.
Curtis Mathes TVs, once the perceived (whether it was true or not) Rolls Royce of home electronics, now just slaps their brand on someone else's budget line, and probably not for much longer. Ick. Vizio is a supposedly American company, but its products are built elsewhere. Doesn't really impress me that you're an "American" company when the vast majority of the labor budget is overseas. Philco, who made the quintessential cathedral-shaped radio, is now a brand of the Dutch company Philips. GE makes most of its money from financial products - not appliances. Not cutting-edge turbines. They still make those, but it's not their bread and butter.
There are some success stories to be found in the globalization nightmare that's cut American manufacturing's hamstrings. AGCO, the agricultural giant that includes such brands as Hesston (hay tools), Massey-Ferguson (former Canadian company, famous tractor manufacturer) and Fendt (German tractors). AGCO is huge, and has a dominating influence on worldwide agriculture hardware. It got its start when Allis executives at Deutz Allis bought the Allis shares back, closing the circle of ownership that had taken from Fiat, to Deutz, back to themselves. And then they started buying up everybody else.
Too bad more of those tractors aren't made in the USA from scrapped Japanese cars. That'd be cool.
Okay. Enough ranting. I probably got off point more than once.