Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Recycling, but it’s never that simple

It surprises me that there are still people who are surprised that plastic recycling is, well, a joke, and always has been. I know it is, not because I’m psychic or because I’ve been digging through secret industrial reports, but because I’ve been reading things on websites and in books that have been widely available to everybody.

Well, so we’re clear – plastic recycling is a joke. This story from Planet Money does an excellent job explaining why, as well as the history of how it came to be seen as, well, not a joke.

Glass recycling is a little better in that the odds that your container will be recycled are greater than one out of two, but not bymuch. (Hint: glass breaks.) The best things to recycle are aluminum, because that doesn’t break as much, and it makes more financial sense for the metal to be melted down and reused. So recycle your cans with confidence.

I really want to say something here about how the best thing to do is to not buy packaged goods at all, and that’s the best thing for the planet. And it’s true. But I can’t help thinking about that single parent working a couple of jobs so they can hurriedly feed their children, and it’s hard for me to lecture them about buying cereal (with a coated cardboard box and plastic liner) or frozen dinners they can heat up. I’m really also not in the mood to entertain lectures on behalf of those parents about how they can batch cook on the weekends, in part because I know how easily children who are hyperaware of how many options they don’t have don’t like to have what few choices they have about food made for them a few days in advance.

So here’s a compromise: everyone who can should avoid packaging, and those of us with resources to spare (in this case, time) should lobby our federal representatives and senators to make laws forbidding the use of plastic packaging – and raising both the minimum wage and guaranteed benefits for all parents.

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