Companies dumped the burden of recycling onto its consumers through their lack of accountability and pursuit of profits. Our environment and animals are suffering because of it. However, the finger is pointed at the consumer. Here’s how we got to this point and what we can do about it.
THE SEA & POLLUTION
Do you know about the dead whale found in the Philippines in March with 88 pounds of plastic in its belly? How about the pregnant whale on a beach in Sardinia the following month with 48 pounds of plastic in its stomach? Or that video of a Marine biologist and her research team pulling out a plastic straw of about 10-12 inches from a sea turtle’s nose?
WHY RECYCLING HASN’T WORKED
When news about these sea creatures come out, the blame is mostly always on the consumer. Why don’t consumers recycle? Or, why don’t they recycle properly? Posters like these have become very common worldwide in an attempt to inform and remind consumers about recycling.
Many households do take the time to separate recyclables from non-recyclables. In fact, some consumers have even gone a step further and found new uses for recyclable items like plastic bottles, turning them into planters or decorative home ornaments. If consumers have been taking steps to make the world so much less polluted than it is, then why can’t we seem to make a huge dent in the pollution problem?
Think about it.
You have just put a plastic bottle in the recycling bin. However, the stores are full of plastic bottles just waiting to be picked up from the shelves.
THE MANUFACTURERS’ ROLE IN RECYCLING
The truth is that the burden of recycling should not only be on the consumer’s shoulders but on the manufacturers’ as well. Recycling efforts by consumers are useless if manufacturers and retailers continue to produce and/or distribute non-recyclable packaging materials.
What if every company worldwide must use biodegradable or recyclable packaging materials?
It is going to be hard for consumers to stop using pollutants since these are readily available. The post office offers plastic bubble mailers as a cheaper alternative to biodegradable boxes. Walmart and other shopping chains have recyclable shopping bags, but these come with a price tag. Their plastic bags, however, are free. And for Starbucks fans, did you know that the inside of each Starbucks cup is coated with thin polyethylene (to keep the liquid in) which breaks down into microplastics? Did you know that the company served out 3.85 BILLION paper cups in 2017? Manufacturers should HELP in the recycling effort by using only recyclable materials in their products.
Moreover, consumers will not be confused and ask, “Is this recyclable?” Many manufacturers seem to stop at just producing environmentally friendly products. They forget that the packaging should also be recyclable. Take this organic fruit, for instance. The product is indeed healthy and better for the environment. But the container? As you can see, it’s non-biodegradable plastic.
GOVERNMENTS: ANOTHER OBSTACLE TO RECYCLING
Unfortunately, governments have been very slow in holding companies like Starbucks accountable for creating these pollutants and/or putting them out there for their consumers to use. For instance, Germany replaced its packaging law with a new one in January which requires all manufacturers (local or foreign) to register with a new national authority which will keep track, among others, of how much packaging a company puts out in the market. Non-compliance equals a fine of up to €200,000 ($223,826.20). However, the law does not strictly mandate manufacturers to use only biodegradable materials.
In Australia, ministers promised in April 2018 to make all packaging 100% recyclable, compostable or reusable, but their target year for this goal is 2025. And while different state laws in the US have started prohibiting the use of single-use plastic bags, these laws say little or nothing about banning manufacturers from producing these kinds of packaging materials.
RECYCLING CAN WORK
Environmentalists say that recycling is one of the most effective ways to save our planet. However, this endeavor will only be a success if governments, companies, and consumers work hand-in-hand.
Leaders should enact legislation that will force companies to work with only biodegradable and recyclable materials and penalize them for not doing so. For their part, companies should start finding ways to go green and stop distributing their non-recyclable packaging materials. Do these sound like huge undertakings? Indeed. History has shown us that despite efforts to recycle there are still devastating effects on the environment such as this floating island of plastic in the Pacific.
Fortunately, we have technology on our side. Social media has proven to be an extremely powerful tool for environmentalists in showing the effect of non-biodegradable and non-recyclable materials. Let’s make some noise on social media! Let’s tell companies to “clean” their house so that consumers can “be clean.” Let’s tell government leaders that they should oversee this “cleaning program” strictly so that companies have no choice but to use environmentally friendly materials in their products and packaging. Let’s not wait until another whale or another sea turtle is hurt by the indifference of manufacturers who would rather be cheap than green.