Thursday, November 29, 2007

Recycling: Consumers beware

I live in a town where there is some recycling. That is, once a week a truck comes by and picks up our separated paper, cardboard, cans, glass and plastic recyclables. I give full Kudo's to the city for providing this service and I'm sure it keeps our local landfills open longer, decreases our eco footprint etc. etc.

Here's the thing (and I'm not even sure if I should be griping about our city for this as much as the plastics/packaging industry). The city will only accept plastics labeled 1 and 2. My first reaction to finding this out was outrage! OK, outrage is a little strong, how about I was perplexed? I dutifully examine my labels and recycle my 1's and 2's so as to not gum up the system but what about my numbers 3, 4, 5,6, & 7's. These all have the little recycle triangle around them so presumably they are recyclable. Why doesn't the city take these?

Doing a little research, I found out that (and no big surprise really) not all plastics are created equal. Further #1 and #2 are preferred because they can be combined with fresh, virgin plastic pellets to make a lower grade plastics (but not 100%). Each time plastic is recycled it becomes a lower and lower grade. Recycled plastic needs to be combined with non-recycled plastic to be useful.

Each of the other numbers have very little use as recycled packaging because of nasty volatile chemical and tend to be limited to use in plastic lumber of all things (again, in low percentages compared with virgin plastic) and items that are NOT recyclable.

So here is my first conundrum. If recyclable plastic is only good when used with virgin plastics and to recycle the plastics that
that already exist, you need to use more virgin than recycled, how is this helping beyond slowing the growth of virgin plastic use (and frankly not all that much)? We are still using a rapidly diminishing resource for packaging. Something ultimately design to be discarded. This does not make a lot of sense.

My second conundrum is a bit of a slam at the "green"/fair trade/organic market. I'm hip with the whole organic thing. It's not that I think these foods are tastier or more healthy or are better for you because they are "natural" I just do not buy that specious strawman when big agribusiness like ConAgra of ADM trot out studies showing no nutritional difference between their genetically modified corn or other produce compared to organic produce. Big yawn. You're growing a beet for crying out loud. The difference is that the organic produce did not have 80 billion tonnes of fertilizer/pesticides thrown at it that leeches into the soil, contaminates ground water aquifers, contributes to algal blooms and deadzones in the ocean. But. And this is a big but, have you ever noticed how much "green"/organic/fair trade stuff is packaged in plastic?! You're kinda shooting yourself in the foot guys. I happened to purchase some organic fair trade coffee that other week and it was packaged in plastic (and not even a type that could be recycled!

I'm really trying not to be cynical here but I'm here trying my best to do what little I can to make the world a better place for me, my loved ones and future generations. So I try to make responsible choices. Why is it that I'm seeing one step forward and two steps back? I buy organic but packaged in non-renewable plastics, I buy fair trade and it's coming from have way around the world by container ship, I buy green and but is not a renewable resource, I by local but it's not fair trade or organic.

I seriously think that I want to just drop off the grid sometimes. I'm tired of being scammed and taken advantage of by the latest fads, crazes and good for the environment cr*p that companies are putting out just so they can get a better margin without really thinking through the full picture. What we need to a greater emphasis on what has been dubbed "true cost" economics. Consumers need to be told that total cost of each item. How much did it cost for raw materials, the "externalized cost" of environmental disruption/destruction, manufacturing, disposal, long-term storage, waste containment..... I think you get the idea.

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