A snapshot into the mess that is Joan’s brain.

The final version (after four major revisions).

For one of my assignments, I chose to look at glass recycling in the UK. The UK has an interesting problem — namely, it exports too much whiskey and imports too much wine! Whiskey comes in clear glass bottles, while wine generally comes in green glass. This means that UK glass recyclers have to deal with mounds of unwanted green glass, while UK industry is clamouring for the clear type.

The imbalance is made worse by mixed recycling systems. Councils in the UK have been putting lots of money into kerbside recycling to help UK meet its EU recycling targets (60% of glass packaging to be recycled by 2008). However, to ratchet up the recycling rate, households want the convenience of not having to sort through different coloured glass or having to provide space for bins for each colour. Colour contamination can muck up a batch of clear recycled glass.

What are the solutions? If you look at the relationships that I’ve drawn in the causal loop diagrams, you might find the right points in the system to poke. These are the options I’ve come up with:

  • Separate colour glass collections;
  • Developing other markets for yucky coloured glass (like crushing the glass up for use in roads);
  • Exporting green and mixed glass to other EU nations for reuse in containers;
  • Persuading importers to use clear glass containers or lightweight coloured glass (to reduce the amount of coloured glass being thrown out);
  • Increasing UK consumer acceptance of coloured glass containers; and
  • Increasing the collection of clear and amber glass (e.g. by encouraging recycling of jars).

I’m using this systems dynamics framework in my MPhil dissertation. It’s an interesting way to analyse cause-and-effect, feedback loops, and stocks and flows. At the moment, the title of my dissertation is, “A systems view of government policies to promote environmentally conscious housing design: comparison of The Netherlands, UK and China”. It’s a little unwieldy, I know. Coming up with a sexy dissertation title is not easy.


  1. Daniel says:

    Intricate indeed, but what is more amazing is that the graph is planar! What are the chances of that! Incredible… and lucky, otherwise your thesis would have to be printed on a surface of higher genus! 😛

  2. joanium says:

    Daniel, I cheated. There are a couple of variables in the graph that are greyed out, like <use of glass containers>. They’re links that desperately needed to be made across the whole diagram, so all I’ve done is duplicate them to the other side. An extra dimension or two would have been fantabulous.

  3. tia marie says:

    Joan that’s funny. Reminds me of a certain job we once worked on together and my brain is still like the first one even at the end of that job.

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