Alex King: The fantasy of recycling

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— When considering the green movement as a whole, there are two main reasons why it cannot make true progress. The first is a lack of understanding of the guidelines for being green, and the second is the green movement does not fit a capitalist consumer-based economic system.

To begin, there’s a lack of understanding of what it means to be green. Anywhere in a typical day, whether on television, radio or newspaper, all one ever sees is “recycle.” Recycling however, is only the last part of a three step process. The whole process is reduce, reuse, then recycle. First one must reduce the amount consumed. Then, find as many ways to reuse that which has already exists. Recycling comes last. Apparently, it’s thought that because one recycles the four plastic bottles of coke drank every day, it’s helping save the environment. If saving the environment is what’s truly important, don’t use four plastic bottles when one is sufficient! And after that one bottle has been used all day long, use it for the week. That would be helping the environment.

The second reason the green movement is intrinsically flawed is the United States is a consumer-based society: The economy is driven by consumption. Companies advertise being green because it’s mainstream. They know advertising green will give a friendly and responsible image to the consumer, but the true goal is to make money. They market their products behind a false label of “environmentally friendly” so there’s no guilt when it’s bought, used once, then recycled. Being green begins with reducing the amount used, then reusing what has already been bought. These two principles do not fit well into the system. The economy is already struggling, and it wouldn’t help if everyone quit buying things they didn’t need. This is the most likely reason the first two steps are unknown: No companies are advertising them because they are not profitable. Reducing and reusing are the opposite of consuming, and do not support our consumer-based economy.

Overall, the green movement is cute like a child playing a game. They’re so wrapped up in their imaginary world, but it’s nothing more than imaginary. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the fantasy of “saving the planet” because citizens are isolated within their lives from the realities of consumption. Consider this: Every single thing used throughout the day has been manufactured: Cars, houses, even water. Manufacturing a car, for example, is an intricate and complex process. From extracting the minerals to moving the car onto the sale lot, so many people are involved that no one person fully understands the entire process. Even if one person did understand the entire process, it’s impossible to have that understanding for every product. This is what it means to be isolated from the realities of consumption. Its more likely to understand material possessions in relation to the number of hours worked, not in relation to the amount of resources used to manufacture the product. Life is a fantasy where being green means buying a car that gets good fuel mileage instead of not manufacturing the car in the first place.

Unfortunately, there’s no clear solution. For everyone to live environmentally friendly, the basis of our economy would have to change, and this is unrealistic. In the end, all that can be done is to pay attention and understand the principles of being green and understand why no commercials or newspapers ever discuss them. Maybe this understanding can be the foundation for real change.

Alex King

Steamboat Springs

Comments

disraeligear 3 years, 10 months ago

Hey Alex - I'm afraid you are "right on" with your comments. Although I live a "green" life so to speak, there clearly is a fantasy land associated with recycling. A couple years back I read a great article on the true costs of recycling, taking into account transportation, labor, required reprocessing energy/chemicals and social costs. Although some items did better than others, the final "net cost" to society for selected items was way worse than by bringing the item to the landfill. Thanks for reminding us with your well written article!

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