In the video below, The New York Times reporters Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza expose “The Great Recycling Con.” In short, through under-regulation, inefficiency and corporate dishonesty, recycling has become the single greatest greenwash of our time. See for yourself:
The fact that the recycling system is broken isn’t news, but this video disrupts the usual chain of blame. In the past, we blamed ourselves for not recycling enough, then the recycling plants for not recycling efficiently enough, then China for refusing to buy our abundance of single-use plastic. Finally, we turned back on ourselves and the cycle repeats.
Amidst all the finger pointing, behemoth companies like Coca-Cola, Amazon, Kuerig and Exxon continue to pour gas on the fire and do everything in their power to keep the blame on a system that simply can’t keep up.
Until these Scrooges all have their A Christmas Carol moments or the Federal Trade Commission finally cracks down, recycling will continue to be a false sense of eco-security for consumers and an easy scapegoat for the producers. It’s time to stop playing into their hands.
So what do we do instead of recycling?
Schlossberg and Naza end the video with some pretty good advice: “Start buying as if nothing gets recycled.” Notice they don’t say “stop recycling” or “recycle even harder.” The solution rests in consumer habits, not recycling habits. After all, money — not protest, regulation or angry letters — is the only language Big Plastic speaks.
What does “buying as if nothing gets recycled” look like? For starters, it means relying on the first two R’s – reduce and reuse – instead of the third. Here are a few suggestions that we’ve looked into recently:
- Buy less new stuff. Every new item has packaging, but second-hand items are often package-free.
- Ditch plastic packaging with this package-free guide to Seattle.
- Don’t rely on Amazon for shopping during the holidays, or any time of year for that matter.
- Find and support companies that reduce and reuse plastic, like these shoe brands.
- Avoid single-use drink containers like plastic soda bottles, aluminum cans and coffee cups. Buy local beer in growlers, mix your own shrub drinks, and bring your reusable water/coffee container everywhere.
- Consider the lifespan of purchased goods in terms of cost and waste. How long does it take for the cost and waste of multiple single-use razors to surpass the cost of one safety razor?
Some zero-waste products with reusable and/or compostable packaging:
Do you have a tip for “buying as if nothing gets recycled?” Great! Let us know in the comment section.