Nobody wants to tell you to reduce consumption, or to reuse what you already have rather than buy more. Even though recycling won’t save us from our massive trash production, “Recycle“ is the motto of the Consumerist Age. This is a huge issue because several generations of Europeans have been fooled into thinking that “recycling“ is something that helps fight “climate change.“ It was never a true statement. The recycling myth is part of an uber-mythology that tells us we can live luxurious lives without destroying the biosphere. Other myths include sustainability, resiliency, and “technology will fix things, don’t worry“. The money and solutions is there to stop this. It is that business cares how to sell more and make profit, none really cares about impact.
I think deep down we knew recycling was a scam. Producers are stamping the recycling symbol on products that aren’t likely to be recycled, either because many recycling programs don’t accept them or because consumers choose to throw them in the trash or products are not actually getting recycled even though consumers follow their local rules correctly. Sadly, we do not have a political system capable of holding industry accountable. Part of the problem is the lack of transparency on the part of producers and importers organisations and local governments in publishing information about the waste stream. What really happens to your trash/recycling? Where does it go? Third World, landfill, incinerator? Who knows? In many places it is not easy to get detailed or even any information. Many people conscientiously sort their trash, including rinsing food containers, which over a year may add up to a significant number of hours… and then it all goes to landfill or to poor country, anyway. Regardless of the availability of alternative to plastic, shipping plastic and hazardous garbage to poor countries for decades is not just morally wrong. It is a crime. Our governments helped perpetuate corruption and pollution in those countries, while our media derided them for being Third World. Guess who are the real villains?
We knew about the different types of plastic, how they were incompatible, how only some of them are recyclable, but we threw them in regardless into that beautiful bin for recyclables that washed us clean of our complicity. We knew that we weren’t seeing nearly enough recycled plastic products for purchase to compensate for all the junk we were submitting for recycling.
The petrochemical companies are entirely to blame for the plastic waste destroying our ecosystem. They make billions in profits off the manufacture of single-use plastics and regard the waste as someone else’s problem. It is extremely unsettling that the plastics industry over the past 75 years has not developed safe recycling technology. It’s a crime they just decide not to do it just because they can’t figure out a solution that suits them. It’s highly unlikely that business will proactively make any changes that will affect their bottom line. Most boards and c-level executives only think of short-term profits and keeping Wall Street happy. Government is also highly ineffective given our broken legislative process. A new law of any substance will likely take 20 years to have any meaningful impact due to let producers slowly make changes over time. The last variable is the consumer. We are also unmotivated given our love for cheap replaceable goods made overseas sold here year on year.
Our Huge Impact
Human beings are charting the way to their own demise. The sad part is that the rest of the globe – mammals, birds, reptiles, plants – will also be irrevocably harmed. We built our entire civilization and cultures on plundering the biosphere, generating pollution, more humans, and enslaving and killing hundreds of billions of animals. It is sickening to see vast numbers of deep see marine mammals and fish suffer and die from swallowing plastic. It is wrenching to watch cows in India suffering from stomach ulcers and dying from eating plastic wrapped vegetable garbage. The problem is so grave that microplastics are present in the air even in remote areas of the world. Plastics are now the main cause of global pollution and we’re really good at kicking the planet/can down the road.
The Flaw and Good Draw
Recycling is the flawed, failed third component of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle“, but because “Reduce“ and “Reuse“ both stand against unfettered consumer spending, what should have been Plan C has been pushed to the forefront in Plan A’s place. Don’t believe it – defy it and buy less, use less, and get more life out of things before you pitch them into the dump.