Re-framing the Recycling StoryKate Stuart
We’ve been telling ourselves a story that is long overdue a dramatic overhaul. A re-framing. A metamorphosis to a new, better, more truthful story. Recycling has been the be all and end all of so much in the environmental movement, leading us to fall into a false sanctuary where we believe that as long as we recycle our plastic, everything will be okay. But it isn’t. And it won’t be. Our consumer society, our economy, our very existence depends on us spending money, buying stuff, spending more money, buying more stuff. Recycling is the sticking plaster on a man made injury that we can’t ever fix with yet more stuff.
Yesterday, in The Guardian, George Monbiot wrote: “The problem is not just plastic: it is mass disposability. Or, to put it another way, the problem is pursuing, on the one planet known to harbour life, a four-planet lifestyle. Regardless of what we consume, the sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems.”
Planned obsolescence, green washing, the disconnect with what landfill is/looks like/does to the planet are all part of the problem too. Buying more stuff, believing the universal lie that we need more stuff is never going to make the problem go away. We must rewrite the story – and in the retelling, realize that recycling has only ever been a tiny part of the equation.
The big question though, is how. Thinking about recycling as a last resort and not an immediate fix is a good place to begin. So much of what we put in our recycling bins just can’t be recycled, so educating ourselves as to what our individual councils will take is a next step. A big impact can be seen when we look at the stuff we have already and re-think, re-purpose, repair, re-gift, re-fill, return it. Compostable? So much packaging is sold to us as a better idea because it’s compostable but it’s worth checking out if it can be composted in a home compost system or if it needs industrial conditions. This is important because “compostable” stuff isn’t necessarily going to break down in landfill where there is a distinct lack of oxygen due to compression, and actually, can create more problems. There is more that can be done to force legislation through in order that industries can be held responsible for the waste they produce, to eradicate planned obsolescence, and to hold companies accountable for the packaging they produce. we an rethink our connections and relationships with stuff, and with the throwaway culture we’ve belonged to for so long. We can talk with honesty about why recycling will never be enough, and we can bash out our ideas and our workarounds. We can work together to make a difference. The conversation is young, but the scope for a new story is there, and we each have a part to play in the re-writing of it.
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Kate Stuart is an artist, writer and craftswoman based in the North East of England, specializing in up-cycling, quilting, zero waste living and painting.
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