I am not a very pious recycler. In fact, if I didn’t live with The Girlfriend, I might not even bother with recycling in my home. I understand that this makes me a bad person to a certain extent, but every time I sort recycling, I think, “This cannot possibly be even remotely the best way to implement this.” The system is so obviously a clunky add-on to our manufacturing process that I can barely stand to think about the inefficiencies involved.
Individual cities that go “all in” with recycling seem to point toward a better way to go about it, but the very fact that it’s a decision made on a city-by-city basis is ridiculous. Waste of resources is a systemic problem — it can’t be solved on a local level on a case-by-case basis. A serious system of recycling would have to be supply-side: companies would have to be required to use recycled and recyclable products and, even more crucially, some form of responsibility for the waste that results from the products they sell.
A sustainable system of manufacturing can’t be brought about by consumer choice — the system has to be designed from the ground up to minimize waste and maximize reusability. Instead, what we have is an economy where we drill for oil, turn it into plastic that essentially lasts forever, form that plastic into a promotional toy for a soon-to-be-forgotten children’s movie, then bury the broken toy in the ground.
One might say that the kind of heavy-handed state control my plan implies “isn’t going to happen,” and one would probably be right. In part, though, it “isn’t going to happen” because a wide swath of well-meaning liberals have essentially given up on any kind of systemic solutions and embraced ethical consumerism.
And yet under current circumstances, the very opposition between state-centered and grass-roots action might be misleading as a guide to action — what if well-meaning people set up an actual corporation that made key consumer goods in a responsible way and made provisions to clean up after itself in the way I propose? Start it in Portland and then let it grow from there, expanding at first to other recycling-friendly cities! Solicit grass-roots investors in Utne Reader!
Surely there is enough empty factory space available in America to make this plan workable, and the company could donate profits to environmental clean-up and subsidies for public transportation. If corporations are the only entities with genuine power in the current system, then we need to form a fucking corporation!