Wellington City Council: We’re reviewing our recycling policy and ditching the the stupid green recycling buckets.
Citizens: Yay, maybe now we can be like Christchurch and have three wheely bins
WCC: Ah, not quite. We think that using plastic bags is a better option.
WCC: Yes, that way each household only pays for what they actually recycle. You see we’re currently short about 1.1 million for our recycling program
Citizens: You want us to buy plastic bags for our recycling?
WCC: They’re biodegradable…
It’s pretty easy to respond with a knee jerk reaction when the council proposes to make it more inconvenient and expensive to recycle – especially when you have to buy plastic bags to help do your bit for the planet. But is convenient and ‘free’ recycling the best solution?
Is it better for the planet to ship recyclable material to China or bury it in landfill? What if you had no idea of how it was processed when it left the country? Would it make a difference if you had to pay 2 million dollars to get the waste onto the boat?
Is it enough if an individual ‘does their bit’ by sorting the rubbish and doesn’t think about further ways to reduce their waste? Could recycling be a false solution which makes people feel better about their lifestyles while costing a lot of money and actually having an extremely small impact on the environment?
It seems to me that we are taking an approach that works well in heavily populated and industrialized countries like Germany and adopting it wholesale without adapting it to our local conditions. The reality is that we are sparsely populated and the majority of recycling technology requires expensive centralized processing facilities which we don’t have. That’s why we end up shipping the stuff to China.
Now I’m not advocating that we scrap our recycling programs, not by any means. But we need to be smart about what we are doing and innovate to find solutions that work for our situation. Picking up the low hanging fruit would be an obvious start.
Right now it is cheaper to mine virgin resources, process them, move them, use them and bury them than it is to recycle. This is because our technology and culture are immature and our economy is false. As a civilization we have a lot of learning to do about how to manage resources and whether we view this as a challenge or an opportunity is a matter of perspective.
Maybe it’s time for some Kiwi ingenuity to be applied to the area of waste management – who knows there might even be a multi-billion dollar export business waiting to be born.
The changes demanded by Nature are not incremental, they are radical. Slowly getting a little bit better is too little, too late. One reason that recycling is popular is because it is a convenient way of ‘doing your bit’. Far more convenient than living a lifestyle that drastically reduces the amount of waste you create. Much easier than cooperating with other people to convince companies to provide us with better waste-free alternatives for our purchases.
Shifting to a user pays plastic bag recycling system is a poor solution to the problems the council faces, but at least it might get people talking about the issue so we can try and find some *real* solutions.
cross post from http://www.joshuavial.com