Why recycling won’t save the planet

treehugger.com
Why recycling won’t save the planet
Katherine Martinko feistyredhair

We blame ourselves for not recycling more plastics, and yet our efforts are like “hammering a nail to halt a falling skyscraper.” It’s time we got to the root of the problem.

“People need to get better at recycling” is a comment I often hear as soon as the topic of plastic waste comes up. It’s a misleading assumption, however, to think that tossing more items in the recycling bin and fewer in the trash can make that much of a difference in dealing with the catastrophic level of plastic contamination that our planet currently faces. In fact, it’s pretty much pointless.

Before you think I’ve given up and gone all anti-TreeHugger, please realize that this is an issue we discuss every single year on America Recycles Day, an annual event sponsored by Keep American Beautiful and the plastics industry that has taught us to pick up our garbage. Matt Wilkins explains in Scientific American that we need to rethink the way we deal with trash, saying that individual consumers cannot sole this problem because individual consumers are not the problem. We have taken it on as our problem because of some very astute, corporate-driven psychological misdirection in the form of campaigns like Keep America Beautiful.

Huh? you might be thinking. Isn’t Keep America Beautiful a good thing? Well, Wilkins has a different view. Keep America Beautiful was founded by major beverage companies and tobacco giant Philip Morris in the 1950s as a way to encourage environmental stewardship in the public. Later it joined forces with the Ad Council, at which point, “one of their first and most lasting impacts was bringing ‘litterbug’ into the American lexicon.” This was followed by the ‘Crying Indian’ public service announcement and the more recent ‘I Want To Be Recycled’ campaign.

While these PSAs appear admirable, they are little more than corporate greenwashing. For decades Keep America Beautiful has actively campaigned against beverage laws that would mandate refillable containers and bottle deposits. Why? Because these would hurt the profits of the companies that founded and support Keep America Beautiful. Meanwhile, the organization has been tremendously successful at transferring the blame for plastic pollution onto consumers, rather than forcing the industry to shoulder responsibility.

Wilkins writes:

“The greatest success of Keep America Beautiful has been to shift the onus of environmental responsibility onto the public while simultaneously becoming a trusted name in the environmental movement. This psychological misdirect has built public support for a legal framework that punishes individual litterers with hefty fines or jail time, while imposing almost no responsibility on plastic manufacturers for the numerous environmental, economic and health hazards imposed by their products.”

If we are serious about tackling plastic pollution, then corporations’ actions are where we should start. They are the real litterbugs in this situation. The focus should be on the source of the plastic, not its near-impossible disposal.

Reading Wilkins’ article felt disorienting for me, in light of all the zero-waste, pro-recycling, plastic-free articles I write for this website. One line in particular made a big impression:

“Effectively, we have accepted individual responsibility for a problem we have little control over.”

I see where he’s coming from, but cannot agree entirely. First, I think that people have to feel like they can do something in the face of great difficulty. So, even if it’s not the most effective method, putting bottles in the blue bin is at least some kind of beneficial action. Second, I believe in the collective power of people: that’s how movements start. Governments won’t force corporations to change their ways unless the public is crying for it — and that begins ever so humbly, with individual households putting their blue bins out each week.

So, how does one even start shifting the blame for plastic pollution to where it’s supposed to be? Wilkins calls on people first to reject the lie:

“Litterbugs are not responsible for the global ecological disaster of plastic… Our huge problem with plastic is the result of a permissive legal framework that has allowed the uncontrolled rise of plastic pollution, despite clear evidence of the harm it causes to local communities and the world’s oceans.”

Then start fighting. Talk about the plastic problem with everyone you know. Contact local and federal representatives. Think beyond zero waste and recycling initiatives to cradle-to-cradle models, “where waste is minimized by planning in advance how materials can be reused and recycled at a product’s end of life rather than trying to figure that out after the fact.” Support bans on single-use plastics or, at the very least, opt-in policies where customers have to request straws or disposable coffee cups, instead of getting them automatically. Support bag taxes and bottle deposits. Fight the preemptive laws in some states that prevent municipal plastic regulation.

As Wilkins concludes, “There are now too many humans and too much plastic on this pale blue dot to continue planning our industrial expansions on a quarterly basis.” We need a better approach, and it has to get at the real root of the problem.

https://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/why-recycling-wont-save-planet.html

Petition: Please stock paper straws for your customers! · Change.org

Please stock paper straws for your customers! · Change.org
John Lyman started this petition to Sysco Corporation
1-2 minutes

Sysco is one of the largest restaurant product suppliers in the United States, supplying straws to thousands of restaurants around the country. But they only stock plastic straws for their customers.

I have spoken with multiple restaurant owners who want to buy paper straws, but don’t have a viable option to do so. Once Sysco has them, they can easily order them along with their other standard supplies.

In the U.S. alone, 500 million plastic straws are used every single day. Many restaurant customers want to avoid plastic straws, but have no other option when dining out.

Once restaurant suppliers make it easy for restaurants to offer paper straws, many will do so. This will have a huge impact on the generation of plastic waste. That’s why I’m asking Sysco, one of the world’s leading restaurant supply companies, to make it easier for restaurants to purchase paper straws and offer alternatives to single-use plastic straws.

https://www.change.org/p/sysco-corporation-please-stock-paper-straws-for-your-customers/sign?utm_medium=email&utm_source=aa_sign_human&utm_campaign=382875&utm_content=&sfmc_tk=Y65ELrEVwnOSO7%2bDYTtOcai29H5kdKvIa%2fjB8tVejWeO%2fzDdQZM0Gz%2fh3oVee5Dk&j=382875&sfmc_sub=61374949&l=32_HTML&u=64689389&mid=7233053&jb=1359

Adopt a Plastic Straw Upon Request Policy · Change.org

change.org
Adopt a Plastic Straw Upon Request Policy · Change.org
Sophia and Amanda started this petition to Dunkin’ Donuts
2 minutes

Our names are Amanda and Sophia. One day in science class, we came upon an article on plastic straws. The article stated that Americans use more than 500 million straws a day- and throw them away. That is equivalent to 125 school buses filled with plastic straws. We also learned that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Those numbers concern us. So when we joined the Earth Club at our school, the leader suggested using change.org, which is how we came upon this website. All 500 million of these plastic straws end up in a landfill or worse, the ocean. When plastic straws get into the ocean, the fish mistake it for food, eat it, and get sick or die. In fact, science shows that when you eat fish, you might as well be eating plastic!

We both think that Dunkin Donuts is a very tasty and an influential company. By choosing this business, we hope to make them take this issue very seriously. These shops have a lot of people coming in every day, almost all of them getting cold beverages containing plastic straws. However, those straws add up to the landfill and get into the ocean. Dunkin’ Donuts is a very successful company, so if they stopped giving out straws (and retained some available for customers with disabilities), won’t others follow their lead?

So please sign this petition and share it with your friends to help the environment, and the world we all live in. Remember, #StrawsSuck! Thank you!

https://www.change.org/p/dunkin-donuts-adopt-a-plastic-straw-upon-request-policy/sign?utm_medium=email&utm_source=aa_sign_human&utm_campaign=385680&utm_content=&sfmc_tk=Y65ELrEVwnOSO7%2bDYTtOcVK%2fbDbHFP1HR4TLOmZza5g8gexy405l7FX6EyjcgUeW&j=385680&sfmc_sub=61374949&l=32_HTML&u=64740345&mid=7233053&jb=1906

When You Refuse A Straw, You Refuse Oil. And Vice Versa.

Written by Sami Grover

When I first started writing for TreeHugger more than a decade ago, I spent a good deal of time worrying about which environmental problems were actually worth worrying about. When a rap video about banning plastic bags went viral, I gently made the case that we might have bigger things to worry about:
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On a case-by-case basis I have no problem with banning the single use plastic bag. But, given all the environmental challenges ahead of us—from peak oil to climate change to clean water issues—and given the uphill struggle we face getting any kind of action in Government, I do think it is worth asking how much political capital we want to spend on laws that address one of the most visible symptoms, but not the root problem of excessive fossil fuel use.

Since then, the issue of single-use plastics seems to have blown up in the public consciousness. And from hotel chains banning straws to plastic bag taxes drastically cutting the amount of bags being found in the ocean, there’s very real progress being made against the problem of ocean plastic pollution.

This success alone has caused me to rethink the musings of my younger, more opinionated self. After all, even if global climate change is the most pressing overarching problem we face, there’s little doubt that ocean ecosystems will be better able to adapt if they are not simultaneously inundated by a sea (sorry!) of plastic trash.

But even this backtracking misses the more important reason that I was wrong. And that’s the fact that by refusing or restricting single-use plastics, consumers and organizations are directly undermining the fossil fuel economy too. As Lloyd noted before, thanks to fracking, fossil fuel companies are now awash with feedstocks for plastics and they are busy expanding the production pipeline massively. So every time you refuse a plastic straw or bag and—more importantly—push for corporate and/or government action to limit plastic consumption, then you are not just making a contribution to trash-free seas. You are also striking a small blow against oil demand and thus helping to mitigate the climate crisis too.

Of course, the opposite is true also. Every time you ride a bike, or choose transit, or opt for electrified transportation, you are not only cutting back on carbon emissions, but you’re disrupting the economy that’s flooding us with plastic too. BP has just admitted that plastic bans might curb demand growth, and it’s also keeping an eye on vehicle electrification and its impact on future profits. Accelerating the adoption of both simultaneously seems like an excellent way to send Big Oil a message.

https://www.care2.com/causes/when-you-refuse-a-straw-you-refuse-oil-and-vice-versa.html

Related:

How to Tackle the Plastic Straw Problem Without Ignoring Disabled People
The Starbucks Plastic Straw Ban Isn’t as Great as It Seems

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger