Today we are going to talk about 3 things; recycling, our welfare and convenience. Last year President Obama’s America Recycles Day proclamation, opened with some sustainably vintage facts: “During the First and Second world Wars, Americans showed their patriotism by participating in scrap drives and salvage collections. A committed citizenry gave up their personal typewriters, joined in volunteer efforts to harvest oil-producing peanuts, and donated old tires in a nationwide push to conserve and repurpose resources vital to our common welfare.”
What it meant to recycle back in the early 20th century is much different than what recycling means today. Back then it was about taking kitchen grease, donating it to your local war office and having it sent to a factory where it was broken down and repurposed into ammunitions. A little dark, but it fits the bill for the true meaning of recycling. These days consumers are encouraged to recycle plastics, because let’s face it, plastic is all around us. Without plastic packaging the things we buy would just spill all over the place. All jokes aside, a majority of the food, drinks and products that most Americans buy is wrapped in plastic, unwrapped at home and hopefully tossed in the recycle bin.
But then what? Remember, according to that proclamation recycling our goods is vital to our common welfare. Let me remind you that our welfare is defined as “the state of being happy, healthy, or successful.” So recycling really means convenience, right? Say you walk into a grocery store for an apple and this grocery store individually wraps their apples in plastic for your convenience. It’s been prewashed and ready to eat after you unwrap it, which makes you happy to not have to eat a dirty apple or have to find a place to wash it. It’s healthy because it’s fruit, and feels like success because you’ve just contributed to your healthy eating and it didn’t take too much effort.
The real effort came in making that piece of plastic in the first place, followed by the energy used to recycle it. When you compare the amount of fossil fuels and energy it takes for the convenience of a clean apple versus purchasing an apple just in its skin, giving it a good rinse and then enjoying it, take the second choice. It’s better for the environment.
Don’t get me wrong, I think recycling is great, but don’t give yourself a reason to recycle out of convenience. The 2013 proclamation asks for activism, for “a new generation of environmental stewards.” Today I ask you, can you go without that plastic? Can you do without the conveniences plastic has given us for the sake of being gentler on the environment?
If you are looking for a (excellent) rant about America Recycles Day, visit Tree Hugger.