The whole point of writing about these “myths” has not been to come up with a comprehensive list of all of the misconceptions surrounding the recycling process. What’s really informative is the insidious nature of these false assertions, whether they have been overtly made or whether they lie just below the surface of the slick ads and the self-serving assertions of the plastics industry.
The key element of the debate, as framed by the producers of plastic packaging, is that we as consumers have two choices when it comes to our use of their products: We can either recycle them or we can throw them away. That, right there, is myth #5. We actually have a third choice, and the reason that it isn’t mentioned by the powers that be is that they would really prefer we didn’t consider it.
We could simply use less of their product. Source reduction is the preferable method for dealing with plastic pollution and if we took a few minutes to examine how we could each use less plastic, we might be surprised with how easy it is. Buying in bulk is one way. Purchasing things that don’t require much packaging, refilling containers rather than buying new ones. Always refusing plastic grocery bags; using cloth or canvas bags instead. Never buying bottled water again (it’s not that hard.) We could look for things that are packaged in glass or paper products, things that could be recycled into similar uses, rather than discarded or made into less useful products.
As a society, we are addicted to plastic. We are the vagrant sleeping under the railroad trestle, sleeping off our polymer binge before getting up and doing it again. We need plastic. It is in everything that is important to us. It is so ubiquitous that we don’t notice it anymore, and we are unable to conceive of life without it. It is our crack, our heroin, our meth. We are so whacked out on what we think it does for us that we can’t quit it. We know we should but we just can’t.
As with any addict, the first step to our recovery is facing our addiction. And facing up to the harm that our habit has caused, not only to ourselves but to our planet, is not something that is encouraged by those who have an interest in keeping that habit going.