Sociodegradable Metal

Today my cousin Mario (Mayito when we were kids) arrived at our beach encampment, and man is he big! I dont know why I was expecting a 10 year old skinny little kid, not a guy about my size with long hair and a goatee.

There's a rock show tonight, and his metal band, "Blasperma" (a combination of the words for blasphemy and sperm in Spanish) is playing. But right now we're just sitting on the beach, catching up and watching his band mates and a group of guys they bring along for mosh pits re-enact some Lucha Libre.

Mayito's friend chides him for leaving a beer can on the beach, and he tries to explain to her that cans are biodegradable, because as soon as you leave them on the ground they're gone. You see, recently the scap metal dealers realized they could make money by recycling aluminum. Rather than set up curbside recycling, educating people on how to separate their trash, etc, they simply started offering 10 pesos ($0.80) for a kilo of cans. Nowadays, there's people who are making a living off of collecting cans, with the effect that if you throw a can on the ground and turn around for a minute its gone.

So Mayito comes to me for backup on his biodegradable theory, and we come up with a new word to describe the phenomenon: Sociodegradable. Though it started as a joke, I think its actually a really useful term, and could be applied to any material valuable enough that it gets picked up and sold by "la sociedad" (society). I haven't seen a can on the ground since I got here, and it seems that with government support, other materials like paper or plastic could become "sociodegradable."

Its interesting to note that this whole system for recycling aluminum - far more efficient than anything I've seen in the US - arose without reference to the the environment and without government support. Its completely based on profit. So efficient, so simple as to be largely invisible, it is a good example of what can happen when a waste product suddenly becomes valuable.

And if you're wondering what any of this has to do with restoration ecology, beyond the obvious fact that it helps reduce litter, I'll tell ya. I think a similar model could be applied to invasive plant control. First, you create a product, preferrably a mass producible one, that requires the invasive as an input. After you´ve used up all of the plant around your facility, you could set a price for the raw material and just watch it come in. Every plant that comes in after that is being removed from a natural area somewhere, to the benefit of that area. The industrial age has proven that we're quite good at eliminating species, and making invasive plants sociodegradable could use our worst tendencies to the benefit of the planet.



Marley said...

Hey Andon,

This is all really great. Have you considered promoting your blog to TV stations/newspapers, etc.? You are discovering some really cool stuff and I bet someone out there would love to publish some of your adventures. Just an idea.

Take care,


ANDON said...

I have promoted it a little, and it was recently featured on the Student Conservation Association blog, but I'm so busy right now just trying to catch up on posts (im a month behind right now), as well as actually having experiences worth writing about, that I havent had time to promote it.

If you, or anyone reading this, has a spare minute, perhaps you could tell either 3 people or one news organization about the blog.

That would help me a ton!

Thanks a bunch,


Tala Woodward said...

Its not a new concept (though what a great term!). A lot of states offer rebates for recyclable products (haven't you ever seen those water bottles that say like "5 cents HI, CA, MA" etc) and the same thing happens - people go around collecting cans and bottles off the streets, out of trash cans...And as for invasives, right at home in Williamsburg, VIMS has a project like that for the Rapa Whelk - by turning in a Rapa shell, you get some sort of monetary reward. The issue with these sorts of projects (of which I'm sure you are aware) is funding. That seems to be the limiting factor. I suppose best would be a situating in which you the returned/collected item could be used to create profit, which could be used to pay collectors, and I'm sure somewhere there is an example of this, but nothing is coming to mind at the moment.

I am Admina said...

it's great to have recycling for profit programs, but it relies on a population willing to spend their time picking up trash -ie, really low income. does building up and government supporting this kind of program just keep people poor?

just a theoretical question, of course; i know that poverty won't be fixed in our lifetime, or probably in any number of lifetimes, and any program that helps people get by, cleans up the environment, and keeps a city running is worth pursuing.