Whether you recycle plastic really doesn’t matter.
I’ve been mulling over this "environmental confessions" business. I get that it’s fun and light-hearted and I shouldn’t take it too seriously. Horrible me, sometimes I don’t recycle the kenaf-paper my peasant-collective-raised free-range hand-fed weekly-massaged organic beef comes in! Ha ha, I feel better.
But if there’s one thing my two readers expect, it’s dry, ponderous posts on subjects of soul-crushing weight, so who am I to deny them?
My thoughts on the matter are captured by this excellent comment from reader greenmark. Read the whole thing, but here’s the main bit:
So, while you are spending an hour agonizing whether or not you should by the chlorine free office paper, the 100% post-consumer content paper, the kenaf-based, hemp-based, or whatever based paper, consider instead spending that hour instead meeting with the store manager to ask why the store doesn’t offer more green products; or, working with your office manager to institute a greener procurement policy at work; or, working with your city council member to adopt a greener purchasing policy for the city. Or, setting up a meeting with your state representative to discuss a sustainable forestry initiative in your state.
A humane, sustainable human society is not an individual undertaking. It cannot succeed solely through individual willpower. Already our culture works to atomize us, to make us feel like islands of consumer desire whose sole function is to accumulate as much as possible. It discourages us from thinking of ourselves as involved in communities that impose obligations and responsibilities. But if it is to mean anything substantial, a new ethic of sustainability must be collective. It’s going to be about community, about our mutual bonds and mutual care.
Whether or not you recycle your plastic makes not one tiny iota of difference in the grand scheme of things — really, it doesn’t. If our society’s survival rests on individuals’ ability to refrain from easily-available ecological sins, we are screwed. It’s the infrastructure that matters: the laws, the economic relationships, the physical structures we inhabit. To use some righteous hippie language, it’s the system that’s gotta change, maaan. We have to establish a system in which it’s easy and natural for people to live sustainably.
Carl Pope takes up this same theme on his blog:
This, I realize, is the most insidious fruit of the corporate counterattack on environmental ethics. A responsibility that should be a matter of taking care of our common communities and our common resources is instead something we have been led to believe we can fulfill in the "privacy" of our own houses.
No. We can’t. Do the right thing — I would never discourage it — but your little slip-ups are not "sins." You are not responsible for our ecological situation; that’s a collective responsibility. What matters is that we, as a culture, make things more thoughtfully, distribute them more thoughtfully, and consume them more thoughtfully.