Under Microscope

It's another world under the microscope.

The Myth of Recycling

In a world of light speed consumerism, we find ourselves consuming as much packaging and single-use plastics as the products that we need to consume. Plastic packaging is incredibly cheap and convenient. Well, at least convenient for the manufacturer. It is easy to vacuum seal a plastic package which protects the goods inside. The product can be food, electronics, or some other mass-produced item. Most people do not necessarily care where the packaging will end up. Some people who care about this issue think they can solve it by recycling the packaging. The awful truth is recycling is not a viable option to make plastics industry sustainable. In fact, it is nowhere near sustainable. Recycling, today, functions as a way of mitigating the consumption guilt that only few people experience. This, in turn, allows them to consume even more, worsening the situation.
The three circular arrows behind most packaging do not mean recycling only. They mean three different sustainability strategies. The last of these arrows is meant to signify recycling. Admittedly our modern industrial society cannot exist without plastics, or any other mass-produced material. Some of these plastics, whether created as packaging or the final product will be out of service at some point. It is a brilliant idea to reuse them as a raw material at this final stage of their life cycle.
At this stage, the second arrow comes into play, which signifies the reusing strategy. The reusing strategy does not mean reusing the material. It means reusing the product with its original function. For instance, when you go to the grocery store, they give you plastic bags. These bags can either be trashed, or recycled after the groceries are taken out of them. However, neither of these options are as good as reusing these bags as bags. If a pickle jar is later used as a jar in a kitchen for storing other products, we do not need to worry about recycling the glass. Ultimately, the recycled glass would end up being a jar somewhere anyway. This may not sound like the best option for consumption driven growth, but nothing is sustainable about consumption driven growth to begin with.
Finally, the third arrow signifies the reduction strategy. This is by far the most effective strategy for achieving sustainability. If we can get away with not buying some product, we should simply avoid buying it. Humanity should invest in innovation and education rather than cheap products that do not always serve a vital purpose. Humanity may not be ready to change their lifestyle yet. Social norms may make it difficult to do this transition even for the people who are willing to reduce their consumption.
A wealthy individual always wishes that their wealth is immediately clear to their society, since wealth is one of the most important satisfiers of the desire for recognition. How could we expect wealthier people to completely ignore this basic urge and stop consuming as much? The answer here is to change the recognition criteria of a society. If people were not respected for owning an expensive car in a social group but instead recognized and respected for their conscientiousness, the said group could achieve its sustainability goals much faster.