Recycling is great, but lately it seems like recycling has become the new rubbish. It’s become easy to justify waste by rebadging it as recycling, but that’s just a rose by another name. Recycling is future-rubbish, it’s just not in landfill. Yet.
Recycling is not infinite process. It has limitations and we are now starting to fully realise these limitations. The disposability of so much of what is consumed creates a phenomenal volume of waste, but a consumer ‘recycling something’ doesn’t make it so. In August 2017, Four Corners aired an expose of the stockpiling of glass recycling in Australia. The Australian public have created more recyclable waste than the market demands and the value of recycled materials has dropped. Selling waste has been big business, but at this point humanity is drowning in so much excess waste that supply has well and truly out-wasted demand. And its not just us. This is a global problem and one that particularly impacts disadvantaged communities, rural regions and developing countries.
The excess recycling problem is not exclusive to glass, so perhaps it’s timely to remind ourselves that plastic is pretty much forever. Sure it can be recycled into other plastic products, but eventually its structure weakens and it goes to landfill. Despite its weakness, once in landfill it doesn't truly biodegrade. It just keeps breaking down into ever-smaller pieces of plastic, and eventually into microplastics, which have even entered our food chain via seafood. We may think plastic is gone, because to our eyes it’s invisible, but it hasn’t disappeared. Even biodegradable plastic takes thousands of years to biodegrade in landfill or in the ocean. So basically every bit of plastic ever created still exists in some form. OMG?!
..the onus is on us to think about what and how we use things, especially disposable things made from plastic.
The impact of microplastic particles has been widely documented, especially the devastation on marine life. Unfortunately, plastic is so cheap to produce that it has become a go-to material for disposable items - what a horrid combo, right?! Material durability and product disposability should never be combined, but they have been. So the onus is on us to think about what and how we use things, especially disposable things made from plastic. It is our responsibility to seek out suitable alternatives wherever we can.
The time has come for significant and urgent change. Our planet is not run by governments, but by corporations. Ten of them to be precise. But it is us, the citizens of earth, who have the power. We are many. It is our money that fuels the corporations who recklessly destroy our planet with disposable products made from permanent materials. We don’t even need those products, despite what their adverts tell us. Life is just fine without all that excess stuff, better in fact if the social psychologists have it right! The problem we face is not that there’s too much rubbish, the problem is that we keep buying so much stuff. We think that stuff is making us happy then when feelings of discontentment creep in, we buy different stuff. We’re in a holding pattern of dissatisfaction, and the moment we stop buying stuff that we don’t need is the moment we start solving the real problem. Consumption. If we could reduce excess consumption we would simultaneously improve our well-being and reduce the impact of excess waste!
Recycling all this excess stuff is like putting a mattress at the bottom of a cliff. Refusing to buy stuff puts a fence at the top of a cliff instead. It’s time to change. It’s time to try harder to be better. And it’s definitely time to put up that fence and stop trying to jump off the cliff of consumption.
Is recycling the new rubbish? Yes. And the next hundred things we haven’t event bought yet are rubbish too. We don’t usually think about it that way, but perhaps we need to rethink things. We are buying things just to throw them away (hello, bin liners!) Sometimes recycling diverts this waste, but eventually it will all end up in landfill. Is recycling the new rubbish? Yes. A million yeses. Yes it is.
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