Recycling is still a late-stage 'solution'
and we thought Toronto shipping their waste to Michigan was bad...
We in Waterloo Region recently learned that some of our recycling plastics are being shipped to China for who knows what. I'm going to comment with my own thoughts first - I just saw that our esteemed prof Jennifer Clapp commented in the local paper today regarding the issue. She knows what she's talking about, so I'll post the link at the bottom here and see if I share a similar opinion.
So it was a surprise to read the articles, but I guess I knew in the back of my mind that something like this was happening. Other Ontario communities are just burying their non-profitable "recyclables". The Waterloo area, for being a founder of the blue-box program, has been working to present a top-notch recycling program, and I've promoted this for other cities and universities - collecting all these plastics possible. But a lot of them - and I don't know specifically which - are not profitable to recycle, and that's the bottom line for the current waste management paradigm. So I along with other eco-activists should take some responsibility in the push for these products to be recycled, when that political pressure pushes regional or city staff to make silly choices with the waste. Of course, not entirely our fault, staff should be completely open about what choices are being made. Claiming to have a recycling program and then burrying collected plastics is not acceptable. And shipping them half way across the world to a land with poor environmental standards, without even asking what is done, it not something that should continue.
So what does the average Joe public do with this new information? I don't really know. I think the best approach would be to advocate for a waste diversion system with transparency, and recycle everything that makes sense. What's more, we have to count more on the other three R's. Littering is not an environmental issue, but an aesthetic one. Recycling everything you can is very helpful. But we have to remember that even things that can be recycled, are really "downcycled", in that they become less and less useful, and eventually become waste anyway.
That leaves us to Reuse, Reduce and Rethink. We can actually save money and mature as a society by buying less and spending more time on fun things that are less consuming of our resources, water, climate and personal salaries. But also, this is a way to save money on campus and in the community. The way to reduce litter, waste and cost is by buying less stuff with packaging, and buying less stuff.
(That's when environmentalism becomes a greater challenge on our broader culture.)