Recycling myth #4

Better off wool

January 17, 2013 Comments (4) journal

Recycling myth #5

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.

4 Responses to Recycling myth #5

  1. Dave Viens says:

    Thanks, again, Ken, for the Recycling Myths series.

    My wife and I have discovered the joys of Using cloth grocery bags when shopping: no plastic waste, of course, but they are also stronger. We need fewer bags, and the stuff inside the bags remain in an orderly, un-jumbled and uncrushed state. Wins all around.

    But I think the biggest challenges in all this is, first, to somehow make people (myself included) realize that, yes, even the little bit of usage I participate in is the problem, and second, to somehow re-teach the habits of thrift that engenders re-use rather than disposal of functional plastic containers and objects — perhaps even if the container were designed with that re-use in mind! — but this latter habit usually, I think, comes from a situation of scarcity, even poverty, in a society. We are far from that.

    I’m looking forward to the film’s Feb. 6 showing at UPS.

    -Dave (the barber)

    • Ken Campbell says:

      Thanks Dave…

      I totally agree with the cloth bags… I’ve been using them exclusively for some time now and everything about them is better than the plastic variety.

      Everything we do has an impact on the environment. It’s not an indictment really, just a fact. It seems that we have an obligation to lighten that impact where we can (especially if it is something as easy and painless as not buying water in bottles or using plastic grocery bags), and mitigating the harm that we do in whatever way we can.

      It’s not easy changing people’s minds, including our own. It can be difficult to change our actions as well. But we can try.

      Looking forward to seeing you at UPS on the 6th!


  2. Alexander C Jones (NOT the wacky conspiracy theorist from Texas) says:

    Actually, it is rather easy to imagine life without plastic. The difficulty is getting to such a life.

    Every year or so, some retailer will provide an opportunity, and in some cases, an opportunity that even saves money. For example, CVS Pharmacy, has their “Green tag” bag, where you buy a reusable cloth shopping bag with a special tag on it, and each time they scan the tag’s bar code, you get some discount. Another one is that at hardware stores, you can buy a home water filtering system, that you can install on your kitchen sink, so that you never have to buy bottled water or use a filter pitcher again (for normal day-to-day consumption). At some home products/kitchen stores, you can buy reusable glass containers for storing food, or containing food in your lunch bag.

    Many of us find that the opportunities for eliminating plastic are not being introduced at a high enough rate, and still have limitations.

    One limitation is that at airports, you cannot bring your filled (BPA-free) water container through security, and you are stuck having to buy bottled water. Another is that not all reusable shopping bags are washable (and some are not as easy wash as others).

    So many of us already want a plastic-free life, and are ready to switch to products for this life, but these products are simply not being introduced fast enough, or cheaply enough.

    • Ken Campbell says:

      OK Alex, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re not a plastics-industry troll like some of the other commenters that have written in so far… let’s take your points one-by-one:

      If a retailer like CVS gives a discount for using a cloth bag, so much the better. If the only benefit you get is using a bag that is stronger, better and less environmentally damaging, that’s pretty good too. Anything on top of that is gravy.

      “Opportunities for eliminating plastic are not being introduced at a high enough rate.” I agree. But the more of us that use the ones that do exist, the more there will be.

      While it’s true that you can’t bring your refillable bottle through airport security if it has water in it, you can bring your empty bottle in. And they have drinking fountains. It’s a fairly easy process. (You can’t bring an opened plastic water bottle through either.)

      I don’t think we’re going to get to a “plastic-free life” anytime soon. That’s a bit of a straw man in this discussion. What I do think each of us can do is to eliminate – as much as we can – single-use plastics from our day-to-day lives. Using cloth grocery bags, refillable water bottles (take a look at the Kleen Kanteen series, for example), and not using straws and plastic flatware… these kinds of steps will make a difference. And the more you look for things that can be substituted for, the more you’ll find them.

      Thanks for writing.