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Reblogged:Recycling Insanity

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The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. -- Narcotics Anonymous

The folks over at 99% Invisible have fallen into the above-mentioned trap regarding the folly of post-1970's recycling, in an interesting piece about a documentary that may have led to China's recent ban on imports of foreign "recyclables." The film, Plastic China, portrays the squalor of some of the modern rag-pickers this craze has produced:
PlasticChina.jpg
Image via Wikipedia.
The movie provides a grim look at the actual process of breaking down materials, in an informal recycling facility. It shows the families cutting up plastic, melting, soaking it and turning it into a sludge -- then turning it into hardened pellets. The little girl washes her face in the gray plastic-polluted water and eats fish that have choked on bits of plastic. They live and work (and eat and sleep) near a plastic-shredding machine, inhaling dust and microparticles that are byproducts of the process. The whole village is enveloped in plastic detritus.
At the intersection of our current technology levels and the value of these materials to the furtherance of human life (i.e., the lack thereof), this is exactly what saving everything we possibly can takes. The mask of respectability of recycling has finally been tugged at. Hooray!

But recycling is only one person in the unholy trinity still being worshiped at 99 Percent Invisible:
Somewhere along the way, key parts of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra got lost. We have lost track of reducing and reusing. Single-use products including straws, bags, cups and bottles are a big part of the problem, as are items made of multiple different materials (particularly ones that are hard to pull back apart, like toothpaste tubes).
And so, predictably, just as one nation is stepping back from the abyss of wasted time that is modern recycling, they call for us to double down on the folly by doing more of the grunt work of recycling here and wasting even more money and effort kowtowing to the other two.

They -- and we -- would do well instead to consider the work of John Tierney, who also notes that some of the packaging we're supposed to "reduce" keeps food from spoiling, among other things. But I am getting ahead of myself, and I must first give the angels of 99 Percent Invisible their due, so to speak. I heartily agree with the conclusion of this article:
In the end, Operation National Sword Could be a wake-up call. But only if producers, consumers, and governments tune in and listen.
It is, but not in the narrow sense of saving a mantra at all costs. As I noted early last year, "around the 1970s, hippies changed the goal of recycling from benefiting human life to preserving the natural world."

It's time to ask ourselves the same question the Chinese seem to have asked themselves when they saw a poor girl's life being wasted and degraded by this barbaric rite of slow human sacrifice: Why should we recycle? This is an important question, and the quality of your life depends on it.

-- CAV

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