Recycling plastic water bottles & caps

Okay, I must admit that I am not an expert on plastic recycling, but I care enough to research when I see a red flag on what have just I read. Now, I certainly know a thing or two, just enough to identify an idiot who recommends counterproductive actions to the gullible public. While writing this, I am referring to this video that is making rounds on social media. Please have a look first, and then let’s discuss :

In this video, a gentleman with an expensive suit and authoritative voice urges commuters at a bus stand on how to avoid the reuse of their used water bottles. He asks them to squeeze the cap into the used bottle, crush it and then throw it. Apparently, this can avoid counterfeit water bottles being reused by small industries.

I have heard this argument many times already. Few of my friends and acquaintances tried to upgrade my knowledge based on the wisdom gathered through social media forwards. Somehow, people are convinced that this is the right thing to do! Let me give an attempt to explain why he is wrong and why it is counterproductive for an environmental cause. 

There is a lot of misconception on how recycling of plastic works or how difficult it is. There are a day and night difference between technology/automation caught up between recycling something like paper against recycling plastic. 

Ideally, in my opinion, recycling plastic should not even be there in your list of preferences on what you should do with garbage in your bin. Recycling should be one of the last resorts, positioned just above incineration or landfills. If you ask me, this should be your order of preferences :

  1. Avoid buying a plastic bottle for drinking water specifically. Instead, have one in your bag all the time. Carry one everywhere, which was refilled at your home while you left home that morning. In case of a scenario where you do not have one handy for some unfortunate reasons, go ahead ask for tap water. Most decent restaurants, food joints and companies have invested in an industrial-grade RO water purifier. Go for it. If not human grade, they might undoubtedly provide you with battery-grade demineralized water. You will survive the day.
  2. Reduce. In a scenario where you have no option but to buy one, take this as a lesson learned. Then bring it back to your home and reuse it. Reuse it to store water, oil or any food items, including grains, till a point of time when your heart feels it’s old enough to discard. Then reuse it with downgraded usages such as craft, art or even home garden.
  3. Recycle should come as next. Now, this is the tricky part. With decades of research, the plastic recycling process has reached a stage that is very much below the desired efficiency. Unsurprisingly, the most significant contributor to the inefficiency of the entire process is segregation. i.e. at the end of consumers who act based on the advice of few idiots at bus stations. 

For argument sake, let’s suppose we have a very responsible township and an enthusiastic team of kabadiwalas who have aggregated them with 100% homogeneous categorization. This will only encounter more hurdles, such as the paint, ink and labels, and the leftover food items. By now, we have a reasonable automated robotic process in place that can attend to these with a certain degree of efficiency. Suppose we clear all those stages and reach your bottle with the cap squeezed inside on the behest of the gentleman who advised you with his infinite wisdom. 

Please refer to one of my previous 14-year-old post for the categorization of plastic.

Generally, the water bottles are made of PET food grade, and caps are PP kind of fibers. a PET bottle can technically be, recycled into a food-grade water bottle, again and again, perpetually for 1000s of times provided that you have an entire batch of homogenously segregated PET. Even a tiny %age of PVC in that batch can spoil the recipe. In other words, these fibers can be recycled with their own kind. Few can be recycled to the exact grade (e.g. Bottles again), some with the downgrade (Bottles to T-Shirts or Bags) and some never.

Now, your bottle has reached the stage at the converter belt where PP needs to be separated from PET. An Automated machine tries to segregate bottles with caps through a forced water jet, without avail. The idea is that PP caps sink and PET bottles float. My bottle, which I discarded with the cap, is now ready for recycling, but not yours. The only possible solution is to deploy thousands of sweatshop employees to dissect your bottle and separate PET with PP manually. This is obviously not practical or cheap, increasing the recycling cost overall. Many of the councils ask the consumers to replace the cap while discarding it rather than separating them. 

Use this for your further reading How to Recycle Plastic Caps & Lids 

In this case, for the batch of your bottles, the recycling unit will do the next set of available options :

  1. Incinerate them to release energy, but at the cost of releasing greenhouse gasses
  2. or Melt them and make roads – this is a double downgrade
  3. or send them to landfill it for it to degrade after a 1000 years 
  4. or your bottle will turn up right here in the nose of a turtle or stomach of a seagull.

Well done.

Father of Surgery

This post is in continuation to the previous one titled Three stages of scientific discovery.

At this age, we have an abundance of information on the origin of plastic surgery or surgery in general. In fact, I do not even need to give you a reference to ancient Indian scientists who adequately documented surgical procedures, including cataract surgeries. Charaka and Sushruta, two famous doctors, earned great fame in their fields, even before the birth of some civilizations who are currently claiming the discovery!

The knowledge they discovered through the trial-and-error method was transferred from generation to generation through both inheritances and formal education. For example, the nasal reconstruction procedure (seems) to be a standard routine during medieval India. But it looks like it was totally unknown to the west during then. And you know how all these validations work? Until it appears in one of the western publications, the legitimacy can be questioned freely and even denied.

Luckily for Sushruta, the certification was issued after 2000 years of his death. It came in the form of a report published in 1794 in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which describes the surgery of one Cowasjee.

Cowasjee was employed as a soldier in the British army. Unfortunately, he was one of those captured by Tipu Sultan’s Army during the Third Anglo-Mysore War. Unlike modern India, where even caught terrorists get to eat Biriyanis in lock-up, the medieval world wasn’t so kind. The soldier was, among others, were severely mutilated.

Lieutenant of Cowasjee probably wanted him to fight another battle for them and make himself useful. This led to shipping him to Pune to a cobler whose name appeared in word-of-mouth endorsements. Remember this, he was a cobler and not a doctor or a surgeon. Stitching dead goat leather is one thing and fixing live human skin is an entirely different thing. Apparently, to everyone’s surprise, they were not that different during 1794. The doctor set his nose with the skin removed from his forehead in the presence of awestruck British scribes, soldiers and career bureaucrats.

Nasal reconstructions had been practised as a relatively routine procedure in India for centuries. This was driven by the common use of nasal mutilation in India as a means of punishment or private vengeance for various forms of immorality. The procedures are described in two well-known early Indian medical works, the Suśruta Saṃhitā, thought to date to the middle of the first millennium BCE, and the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā, believed to date from the sixth century CE*. By the nineteenth century the technique had been handed down through separate families in three different parts of India.

Rhinoplasty by transfer of skin flaps from other body parts had also been practiced in Italy in the sixteenth century, most famously by the Bolognese surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi (1545-1599). The Indian technique probably spread to Italy via Arabic scholarship – it is probable that the Suśruta Saṃhitā was translated into Arabic in the later 8th century CE on the orders of the Vizier Yahya ibn Khalid.

– a couple of paragraphs from a blog post named Britain’s first nose job from British Library.

It is adequately registered through various sources that Arab enthusiast had translated procedures discovered by Sushruta and Charaka’s. So, any Arab surgeon a Millennium later had ready-made SOP to start with.

Statue of SushrutaRACS, Melbourne through wikipedia

Now, remember, we Indians, at least some of us, are still hold the mindset of “Nothing good came out of this sub-continent, we have invaders to thank for whatever we are”!

For these reasons , some of our history textbooks still point out to an Arab as the father of a Surgery!!

Three stages of scientific discovery

There are three stages of scientific discovery: first, people deny it is true, then they deny it is important. Finally, they credit the wrong person” – Billy Bryson.

This quote is often credited to Alexander von Humboldt as well. That is an irony to the quote itself. If that were accurate, then we have an example right in the quote’s attribution it originally intended to call out.

Anyways. The quote is abundantly clear on the sad truth behind the crediting the discoveries and inventions are concerned. Although somewhat exaggerated, It seems broadly accurate, especially with the innovations that came out of India. Be it number system, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, Food, Yoga, Meditation and even board games, all went through the three stages quoted above. Some of these are presently struggling at the third stage – even after taking great pain of producing the burden of proof.

Stage 1 is being called a conspiracy theorist for having made any claim on the original discovery. I have written about it in a post named Conspiracy Theories, Russell’s teapot, and Breast Tax. Stage 2 is calling the discovery snake oil or placebo. I have briefly touched upon it in my post-Ayurveda, Clinical Trials & Capitalism. Let us talk about stage 3 – the wrong attribution.

There is a formal name for this third stage, it is called Stigler’s law of eponymy. It says that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Although it sounds like a gross exaggeration, you will be surprised to know how many scientific discoveries are wrongly credited to the scientist who discovered it at a later point in time or did not discover it at all. I am picking only Indian ones for now.

One example was Jagadish Chandra Bose, who was not credited for Radio wave communication instead of awarded it to an Italian Marconi. Among many others, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995) on his contribution of Black holes! Get this:

At the age of just 20, on his journey to Cambridge, he came with the idea that is now called the Chandrasekhar limit: the concept that above a certain mass, electron degeneracy pressure in the core of a white dwarf star is not enough to counterbalance the gravitational self-attraction of the star. Above the Chandrasekhar limit, stars explode or collapse into a neutron star or black hole.

But when Chandrasekhar presented his findings at the Royal Astronomical Society in London in 1935, he was publicly ridiculed by Sir Arthur Eddington, a world-renowned physicist who had until then acted as a mentor to him. The clash was between an internationally famous physicist and a young Indian student in a hostile environment. It set acceptance of Chandrasekhar’s idea, and by consequence, his career, back by years, and ultimately led Chandrasekhar to leave Cambridge in the hope of finding a better welcome elsewhere. In 1972, the first black hole was discovered, and Chandrasekhar’s theory was finally proven correct.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995)

[Two Paragraphs and the image from the oxford-royale article Scientists Who Didn’t Get the Credit They Deserved ]

Traditionally, the Indian formal education system and mainstream media are designed to make us feel an inferior culture and did not contribute anything to the scientific world. Also, apparently, we have the west to thank for anything we have, which they brought to India on their civilization mission. Any attempt to dispute to this will face immediate and overwhelming ridicule in academic circles. This is how I grew up listening to how big losers we are with no hopes.

Things have changed, and truth had to come out eventually anyway. Now, get this, wikipedia a dedicated page for an extensive list of discoveries and inventions which finally attributed to Indians, after awarding it to a bunch of merchants, travelers and colonizers for centuries.

To be continued…

Abraham Wald , Survivorship bias and armoring warplanes

You would have heard of “the legend of Abraham Wald”; his name often comes up in many talks and webinars, specifically as an illustration of lateral thinking or outside the box thinking. If you haven’t, let me quickly introduce him to you. He was a Hungarian mathematician who emigrated to the US during WW2 escaping religious persecution by Nazi Germany. As a gifted statistician, he became a part of the war math team of allied forces. Probably that was his way to get back at the repressive regime he ran away from in the first place.

Although formally not named that way, war math is applied mathematics, influencing battle strategies for optimal results. Being part of it is a highly under-celebrated and thankless job. These guys are equally crucial to the outcome of the battle, as much as that of a captain of that platoon, if not less — for example, Debora Morgan vs Dexter Morgan.

Anyways, back to Abraham Wald. He worked on analyzing and optimizing the damages sustained by returning warplanes. His decision would make or break the battles, save lives for the pilots and war machines themselves. In the below scenario, the optimization simply meant armoring the planes like battles tanks do. An extra layer of metal that can simply resist anything and everything thrown at it. But he cannot ignore the economics behind it. Armoring an entire plane is going double its weight and hence impacts its aerodynamics. The plane might not even take off. The decision is to armor a particular area of the aircraft or two without severely compromising the plane’s potency. The question is “Where?.”

With his guidance, the ground crew pulled beautiful statistics on the bullet holes the planes sustain upon returning from the mission. Please refer to the image below. The pattern was clear. Everyone had a straightforward answer. Engineers can clearly observe where the bullets holes were, armor them and problem solved!

The damaged portions of returning planes show locations where they can sustain damage and still return home; those hit in other places do not survive.

Abraham told “Eine Minuten, bitte,” or something like that. I do not know what Jewish Austrio-Hungarian genius mathematics spoke during then, Yiddish is it? Anyway, his argument was the engineers are actually looking at the planes that have returned. That simply indicates that planes can actually sustain the damage at these parts. The rest of the aircraft, which got hit in the area not on the map, did not even survive. Hence those parts should be armored. Basically, armor the regions where there are no bullet holes. This was a radical idea during then. It apparently worked, and it became one of the most celebrated legends on survivorship bias.

As its name unambiguously indicate, survivorship bias is a logical fallacy we tend to commit while recognizing a pattern entirely based on those who have survived. That, too, while discounting the disproportionately large instances indicate otherwise.

These are the few examples I can think of. I am sure you will find more when you give it a thought.

  1. There are colossal fandom on an idea of few Silicon Valley legends who became billionaires after quitting school, such as Bill Gates, Steve jobs, so on and on. It is a highly problematic argument. These folks became great despite leaving school, not because of! It is a classic case of survivorship bias. There are thousands of examples of kids who quit school who could not achieve anything remotely similar. In these cases, because of it.
  2. While celebrating centurions scoring 100 years, the most common topic of discussion is how people born in the first two decades of the last century have the best health. Again, this is a survivorship bias. Ask the centurion how many siblings and cousins they had and how many of them survived beyond the age of 5.
  3. Another example I came across is about Mud huts of Asia and Africa and their counterparts as wooden log houses in the west. When people come across one which is old, it is about 75 years. They immediately jump into the praise of the “engineer” who built it and how it survived despite harsh weather conditions. Also, “how we no longer make such strong ones anymore.!!!”. That mud hut was probably one among the millions which somehow survived.

P.s. Abraham Wald died in a plane crash in India, the kingdom of Travancore!!

The lobster debate, Social Hierarchy and Jordan B Peterson

While reading the latest book I picked up, I came across this fascinating and fantastic trivia about lobsters’ behaviors. I assure you that you too will be surprised to learn about it. It is a very cool analogy and the correlation between the Human kingdom and Animal ones. This can be utilized to reason out a few characteristics such as male dominance, the effect of antidepressants and the social hierarchy, including even patriarchy. It goes like this:

  1. Like any animal kingdom species, lobsters get into disputes and fights to register male dominance. As usual, the battle is to determine who is the best suitable mate to carry the gene forward. As decided by binary results, the lobster that won the brawl will flex and get bigger physically, advertising his victory. The looser will shrink physically.
  2. Suppose you inject antidepressant, like serotonin, to the lost lobster. It stretches and gets bigger and ready to fight again. By the way, the same hormone work works on the human as well,
  3. An interesting point to note is that these neurochemical behaviors exist in the animal kingdom for 2.5 million years. i.e., Even before trees became into existence.
  4. A defeated human, such as with PTSD, will have the hippocampus shrink and the amygdala grow. A hippocampus can grow back with the help of anti-depressants. However, amygdala never grows back. Similarly, a defeated lobster will have its brain dissolved, and a new one grows back but not of the same one before.
  5. Basically, the argument is that the animal kingdom, including humans, organizes itself in the inevitably aligned social hierarchy, which is evolutionary and driven by neurologist chemical reactions. Not due to a political system such as capitalism. In other words, the human hierarchical organization in the political system has the evolutionary design to blame, not the other way around.
Photo by Roger Brown on

Apparently, this conclusion is based on a study on lobster, collective behaviors, social hierarchy etc. And the books where I picked up is “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos ” by Jordan B. Peterson. I will not be able to validate the theory as I am not qualified enough to do this. But he is a well-published author, Professor, clinical psychologist and public intellectual. I am gonna have to go with him this time.

Most rules of these books are controversial now, often unnecessarily. Jordan and his book are receiving end of American university students’ anger and social figures leaning left. Most noise comes from those who have not read it, instead of having their knowledge based on 140 characters of Twitter. Understandably the book is not an easy read. The technical terms, psychological reasoning etc., make it a laborious read. Unless you made up your mind to complete it, it is not gonna finish itself.

I recommend this to you if you are still interested, take it as a fresh perspective on the latest sets of social debates.