¨Why is it everything for the economy regardless of the Earth´s destruction? We are in the 21st Century. We could do better. Environmentalism is good for the economy¨
Recycling is a noble and necessary cause for industrialized human societies. The problem is that people generally forget about the devastating effects of solids floating in our oceans, the exponential growth of landfills, and the excess of energy needed to produce more and more physical products from scratch. Since 1/2 of world´s 7 billion people now live in cities and urban areas, the garbage we produce is concentrated in landfills in which a mountain of material wealth is buried and forgotten. City dwellers see some of the garbage dispersed in the vast landscapes of concrete and steel, which looks a bit unattractive when not placed inside the trash containers, but when the trash is inside the containers, which are always filled to the brim, they are taken away and sent to who knows where – out of sight and out of mind, and we continue to throw potentially useful material away.
The idea of garbage, waste, rubbish, trash or whatever you want to call it, is useless to the Earth in that products made out of plastic, rubber, metal and glass will not disintegrate for it to use; that is why we as humans should recycle and continue using them.
The problems people face in advanced and industrialized countries with regard to recycling might not be their fault. The problem is that there is a general lack of innovation and lack of profit-driven advancements in the use of recycled materials. There are no universal methods for recycling in many places. Just look at any state, city or town in the United States: There is a different method and process for garbage and recycling collection in each municipality. This also occurs in some places in Europe in that there is no universal method or financial resources for collecting all that is recyclable. Some towns collect and recycle batteries, cooking oils, used cell phones, organic materials, some towns have public ashtrays (so cigarette butts don´t float among the streets), some towns don´t recycle at all, some have organized a weekly collection of large household furniture, etc. The lack of universal practices within individual states and countries make recycling an impossible task for most people.
There are a few ways to incentivize people to recycle:
1) Make it illegal to not recycle: Fining people for not recycling is not a new idea, but not recycling is much like throwing garbage in the street, which also carries a punishment of a fine.
2) Containers: If people have the resources, they just might use them. Organic material, plastic, glass, paper, metal, electronic equipment (including batteries), oils, and cloths (clothes, furniture cushions, etc) seem to be the majority of the things city dwellers throw out. It seems like a lot of different containers, but the initial sorting these materials could be profitable later on.
3) Innovation: Scarcity and abundance of materials is wealth – like having fresh water and good soil in the desert. The amount of food and organic material that is thrown out by people who live in areas with an abundance of sun (i.e. Southern California, southern coast of Spain, Arizona, and Egypt) can be used as compost for agriculture if treated properly. In the ¨sea of plastic¨ or ¨Europe´s salad bowl¨ in southeast Spain, there are cultivars of tomatoes and cucumbers who use the discarded husks or hairs of coconuts as a growing medium. It is an organic solution to recycle a material that normally would be buried in a landfill.
An unorthodox but innovative way of recycling comes from Sweden in that they incinerate some of their garbage to produce heat and electric energy for homes. Sweden recycles 96% of its rubbish while the remaining 4% is put in landfills, which eventually gets used. They recycle so well that they actually have to buy garbage from their neighbors to continue producing energy for heating by incineration.
Electronic material, which is probably the wealthiest item city dwellers constantly throw into the trash, is very easy to dispose of, but difficult to recycle. The amount of components that make up something as complex as a computer, mobile telephone or television: precious metals, glass, plastic, wiring, and rubber, make it so much more difficult to recycle. This is why there should be a separate container and resources to recycle electronic materials.
Much of the industrialized world´s electronic equipment goes to places like Nigeria and Thailand where toxic landfills are inhabited by local people who try to scavenge as much material wealth as they can. Places like Lagos, Nigeria, receives about 10,000 tons of trash, garbage, and potentially recyclable material each day. Although there is a community of people who live in a squalid shanty town within the landfill, they depend upon it, since they sell small quantities of useful materials, but it is simply too much garbage – and most of it is absolutely useless.
The paradox with electronic equipment is that although we use less material, we produce more garbage. One example of this paradox is how far we have come technologically with television and computer screens. In the 1980s-1990s, television and computer monitors were heavy, bulky, and expensive. Now in the 2000s, monitors are lightweight, use less materials, and are cheaper. People are buying more computers than ever, and more than ever they end up in landfills. Compare cellular phones in the 1990s to cellular phones in 2010: Large, bulky, and expensive mobile phones from the 1990s were few; small, lightweight, and relatively cheap (except for the iphone) mobile phones in the 2000s are cheap and more abundant than ever. There needs to be a revolution in how we recycle electronic equipment or risk a pandemic in which places like the Olusosun Landfill in Nigeria become commonplace elsewhere.
Imagine if each municipality, town or city had a massive recycling facility in which employees delicately sorted materials into different types of metals, plastics, glass, ceramic, organic material, wood, and electronic equipment. A facility of this type would create an almost endless source of full-time employment, much like the people to retrieve the rubbish in the first place. A better understanding of the materials that people discard will permit the exploitation of these materials again.
Plastic bottles, although recyclable, are one of the most abundant items that end up in landfills. Architects recently demonstrated how many plastic bottles New Yorkers contribute to landfills by building a massive structure with them. Each hour, the residents of New York City throw out more than 50,000 plastic bottles instead of recycling them. The structure is large enough to shelter about 50 people. This project demonstrates not only how much recyclable material is wasted, but also what else can be done with these materials instead of simply throwing them out.
Although Americans in the United States would like to think that it still leads the world in innovation, technology, and socioeconomics, it is evident now more than ever that it is beginning to lag behind its allies in Japan, China, Northern Europe, specifically Germany, and the countries of Scandinavia. Americans waste more than any other people on Earth. Culturally, things in the United States are bigger than in other countries (cars, houses, product packaging, etc) Predetermined obsolescence of cheap products is also a concept that keeps Americans buying, which also drives the economy. Marketing has a lot to do with the amount of garbage Americans produce in that packaging for small items is large so that it catches the customer´s eyes from a distance.
The packaging for our blenders, x-box, mobile phones, televisions, baby toys, sunglasses, picture frames, tweezers, cans of tuna, boxes of cereals, and everything else people by from places like Wal Mart will be thrown in the trash. They must all be recycled along with styrofoam! What a retched material. Styrofoam is trademarked, whereas the non-brand name for this material is expanded polystyrene foam or EPS foam, whose name makes it sound like what it truly is: an almost impossible to recycle material. EPS foam for take-out foods should be regulated since it is almost impossible to recycle or biodegrade. Places like Oakland, Albany, New York, and San Francisco, have banned EPS foam for take-out foods. The alternative is to use paper containers which are both recyclable and biodegradable.
Environmentalism involving clean energy and recycling in the United States is facing a lot of backlash in that people who have a stake in the most profitable industries like coal, petroleum, and petrochemical think that it will interrupt their profits, but once people realize that there is money to be made in recycling and innovation, it should catch on. The problem is that many of the policies made by lawmakers outweigh the small ecological movements that haven´t had a chance to grow. The countries of Japan, Scandinavia, Northern and Central Europe have culturally recognized that recycling is a basic human activity that is part of living in a civilized society. These places have realized that they can be both rich countries that provide healthcare, clean energy, non-GMO food, free education, paid vacation and maternity leave, and great recycling programs without compromising their economy. American culture needs to change from: everything for the economy regardless of the Earth´s destruction. We are in the 21st Century. We could do better. Environmentalism is good for the economy
By: Opton A. Martin