Recycling Alone Wont Fix Our Environment

recycling along won't fix our environment

That recycling is a great way for the average consumer to help save the planet. And while I agree with you, let me explain why we can do more. 

Everywhere you turn these days, you see advertisements pushing us to recycle. Corporations jumping on the Green bandwagon left and right, campaigning for the masses to choose their products over others because they use recycled materials in their packaging and donate funds to conservation programs, etc. This is great to see, and by no means am I suggesting that it should stop. Such efforts by these corporations are helping to drive individuals in large numbers to make more conscientious choices with the products they use, aiding state and federal governments in passing bills designed to create better access to recycling and conservation programs, and are helping to promote the concept that recycling our used materials instead of throwing them in the trash is better for the planet. And they are absolutely right about it. 

However, what most people do not take into consideration is the fact that these same corporations are the ones causing the most damage. It is misleading to assume that, by tossing more items into the blue bin and less items into the garbage can, we will make that much of a difference in confronting the catastrophic levels of plastic contamination at hand. In the scheme of things, it’s basically pointless.

aluminum cans needs recycling
Photo By Scott Mcpherson

Conservation events, such as the annual America Recycles Day sponsored by Keep America Beautiful and the talking heads of the plastics industry, have spent a lot of time and money teaching us to pick up our trash. Instilling the concept that, as individuals, we are the problem and that, as individuals, we are the ones who are responsible for fixing those problems. Fundamentally, this is true. We should all make better efforts to avoid using products that are single-use and full of non-biodegradable materials. However, as individuals, we cannot solve this problem because we, as individuals, are not the actual problem. However, we have, as individuals, taken on the problem because of some very discerning, very crafty corporate-driven psychological deceit shoved down our throats in the form of campaigns like Keep America Beautiful. 

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourselves that I am nuts. That campaigns like Keep America Beautiful are beneficial to society and to the planet. As explained by Matt Wilkins, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, and contributor to Scientific American, this just simply is not the case. Major beverage corporations like Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, alongside tobacco giant Phillip Morris and several others, founded Keep America Beautiful back in the ‘50s in order to proselytize the concept of “going green”, as we would say in 2019. As part of their efforts to educate the public, they approached the Ad Council to bring us some of the most enduring marketing campaigns to have ever existed, inserting the term “litterbug” into the American lexicon, and tapping into a shared national guilt to motivate behavioral change. 

Photo by Global Water Forum  

Lobbying against “thoughtless individuals” through these marketing efforts has incorrectly shaped our perceptions of who is truly responsible for causing the environmental disaster that is overwhelming our planet. Journalist and author Heather Rogers describes these campaigns, like Keep America Beautiful, as “the first corporate greenwashing front”, and this misdirection has shifted the public focus to consumer recycling behaviors which have actively thwarted legislation that would force plastic producers to bear responsibility for waste management. More simply put, clever hat tricks have brainwashed our society into believing that we, as individuals, are the reason our oceans and landfills are brimming with plastic waste and it is the individual’s responsibility to manage the problem.

Endeavors that, on the surface, appear to be compassionate or even philanthropic are nothing more than a bunch of smoke and mirrors used to mask the real problem of the role corporate polluters play in adding to the destruction of our planet. You see, these corporations, like Coca-Cola and Phillip Morris, advocate for greener solutions while simultaneously contesting and campaigning against legislation, like the Beverage Container Law, that would outlaw the sale of beverages in non-refillable containers (think 20oz soda bottles and aluminum cans, etc.). Keep America Beautiful went out of its way to dismantle this law back in 1953, and found success when Vermont lawmakers allowed the measure to expire after only 4 years. Single-use containers were just becoming a thing, and Big Beverage wanted to capitalize on the potential profits that this industry offered. 

Other states subsequently passed similar “bottle bills” requiring a cash deposit on beverage containers that would be refunded upon the container’s return, creating quite the incentive to recycle. Of the states currently participating in bottle deposit laws, there is an average of 60% container recovery in comparison to the24% in states that do not participate. That is a HUGE difference and shows that incentivising recycling habits produces a massive return! And still, Keep America Beautiful (remember, this campaign was created and continues to be backed by Big Beverage and Big Tobacco) along with many other industrial lobbying groups continue to openly disparage and campaign against legislation that would encourage bottle deposit programs simply because the concept threatens their bottom lines. The proof is in the pudding, too. Nearly $14 million was spent between 1989 and 1994 by the beverage industry to annihilate the National Bottle Bill. 

bottles need recycling
Photo by Anders Sandberg

In conclusion, campaigns like Keep America Beautiful, while shiny on the surface and do a lot of good by highlighting pollution problems and encourage recycling solutions in communities, they do nothing to address the real issue at hand. Instead, they actively participate in the propagation of pollution by engaging in psychological warfare to misdirect the public and point blame at the wrong people. We live in a world where the legal system has been manipulated to favor corporations, and public acceptance of single-use products is commonplace. As individuals, we should always do our part to reduce our impact on the cataclysmic problem of plastic and non-biodegradable waste products. Seek out local recycling options, and purchase reusable containers (then actually use them instead of opting for the easy-out when you’re hustling through your day) wherever possible. When you are faced with having to use single-use plastic, make an effort to ensure that piece is recycled properly. Reduce, reuse, re-educate. 

GoodBulb is proud to offer recycling options for your spent light bulbs. CFLs and fluorescent tubes (which contain mercury), incandescent, halogen, LEDs, you name it. We implore you to take advantage of the recycling programs in your area.

And as always, Be Good.

think before you recycle
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