Originally published 29 August 2008.
Let me explain that one. I’m not saying that filling landfills with plastic is a good thing. When I was a kid, absolutely everything a house discarded was tossed into a black plastic bag, which was tossed into a big hole in the ground. Pretty ridiculous, when you think about it, and it’s great now that we’ve been able to get to a point where the greater majority of waste we produce doesn’t have to go into a landfill. It’s predicated on public willingness to ‘contribute’, but it’s not really that much of an effort. All hunky dory, so far.
What bothers me, though, is not the effort required to recycle and compost like a good citizen. What bothers me is how much less the effort could be, with just a little work.
I honestly have no idea what’s recyclable and what’s not. Any plastic item that’s not a Coke bottle gives me cause for doubt: do I throw this in the recycling or in the garbage? Maybe it says so somewhere on the packaging itself. Maybe the three-arrow symbol has a number in it. Maybe I can call my parents and ask them. Maybe it’s recyclable where they live, but not where I live.
None of this makes a lick of sense. I don’t know why some plastics can be recycled and others can’t (and I certainly don’t know why some types would be accepted in one city but not another). I do know that the science of recycling and the chemistry of plastics is not something your average Joe is going to possibly know. As an average Joe myself, I’m living proof.
The thing is, we oughtn’t need to know. There ought to be a strict set of regulations standardizing what is recyclable and what isn’t across the country, and there should be very clear instructions on packaging itself about whether or not the packaging conforms to those regulations. In fact, non-recyclable plastics ought to just be completely banned from the world of packaging, but perhaps there’s something I don’t know about why they continue to be used. I’ll happily plead ignorant on that. Because it’s not the point anyway.
The point is that manufacturers need to take the initiative, at legislative gun-point if they won’t make the effort themselves, in making the products we buy recycling-friendly, so that we’ll be better able to recycle correctly, solving the problems of recyclable things going to the garbage, and of non-recyclable things going to recycling centres (both of these are, of course, problems). There seems to be a constant struggle in the public arena between companies’ rights and their responsibilities. Those who defend big business will be happy to talk about how companies ought to have the right to behave however they want within the strictures of market economics, and as such will condemn any attempt by the government at what they see as ‘interference’. As a result, legislation with big businesses is often condemned in and of itself.
But this one seems to me like a no-brainer. Allowing recycling programs to run anything short of peak efficiency only to make the lives of big business easier makes no sense at all.