HomeTag: environment

The Great Plastics Con.

At Syracuse University, there are boxes of files from a former industry consultant. And inside one of them is a report written in April 1973 by scientists tasked with forecasting possible issues for top industry executives.

Recycling plastic, it told the executives, was unlikely to happen on a broad scale.

“There is no recovery from obsolete products,” it says.

It says pointedly: Plastic degrades with each turnover.

“A degradation of resin properties and performance occurs during the initial fabrication, through aging, and in any reclamation process,” the report told executives.

Recycling plastic is “costly,” it says, and sorting it, the report concludes, is “infeasible.”

And there are more documents, echoing decades of this knowledge, including one analysis from a top official at the industry’s most powerful trade group. “The costs of separating plastics … are high,” he tells colleagues, before noting that the cost of using oil to make plastic is so low that recycling plastic waste “can’t yet be justified economically.”

On the recycled con.

Tl;dr the plastics industry has always known recycling is economic voodoo, but sold it to the public so they wouldn’t face government regulation and/or decreased demand.

2020-12-07T09:33:35+11:0024th December, 2020|Tags: |

Private effort.

So I don’t exactly make it a secret that I hate the whole shtick about companies foisting off “responsibility” for addressing climate issues onto consumers (fuck your straw ban, basically). But, like… just quietly? In the last year or so I’ve also started making changes to my personal behaviours, like driving less, always making sure to carry reusable grocery bags in my handbag,1 and no longer cooking red meat at home.2

Realistically, I know these efforts won’t achieve much and, like, also? Being an affluent Westerner who is choosing to not having children basically gives me a free pass on environmental issues forever, so there’s that. But it’s surprising how much they’ve just made things… baseline less shitty for me in general. Particularly the car thing; I’m privileged in that I can largely eschew a car, and I also hate driving. But man, once I stopped regularly using it I did not for one single second look back…

  1. Incidentally, it’s actually kind of shocking how often I use these. Like, pretty much daily? Which I would not have guessed prior to starting to carry them. []
  2. Though I will eat it when I’m out. Because, y’know. It’s sooooo goooooooood… []
2020-03-03T09:04:33+11:001st July, 2020|Tags: |

Future meat, future eat.

Research by the thinktank RethinkX suggests that proteins from precision fermentation will be around ten times cheaper than animal protein by 2035. The result, it says, will be the near-complete collapse of the livestock industry. The new food economy will “replace an extravagantly inefficient system that requires enormous quantities of inputs and produces huge amounts of waste with one that is precise, targeted, and tractable.” Using tiny areas of land, with a massively reduced requirement for water and nutrients, it “presents the greatest opportunity for environmental restoration in human history.”

Not only will food be cheaper, it will also be healthier. Because farmfree foods will be built up from simple ingredients, rather than broken down from complex ones, allergens, hard fats and other unhealthy components can be screened out. Meat will still be meat, though it will be grown in factories on collagen scaffolds, rather than in the bodies of animals. Starch will still be starch, fats will still be fats. But food is likely to be better, cheaper and much less damaging to the living planet.

George Monbiot on futuremeat.

Not gonna lie, one of the idealistic potential technologies I’m most excited about, along with truly autonomous vehicles, is vat-grown food.1 Australia in particular is pretty much almost entirely made up of marginal and desert land that’s unsuited to most types of European-style agriculture, and yet has been exploited for centuries for cattle, sheep, and wheat production, leading to habitat destruction,2 mass desertification and other ills.

Yes, people will lose jobs as farms—including likely some of my (married) family’s farms—close but, realistically, agriculture makes up less than 3% of Australia’s workforce. Dealing with that displacement is a political and economic challenge but, like. So is agriculture-driven climate change, with threatens exponentially more people, jobs, and money. So, y’know. Welcome to the decade of change or die. Literally.

  1. Particularly as someone who likes meat, and red meat in particular, but is increasingly finding it difficult to justify consuming it. On the other hand, as someone living in the driest inhabited continent on earth, most vegetarian options are even worse—plant-based diets take exponentially more water to sustain than meat-based ones, which is why you only tend to find them in tropical and sub-tropical pre-modern societies—so, like. Y’know. []
  2. Europeans in particular tend to treat deserts as “barren”, lifeless places—it’s literally right there in the name of them—but if you’ve ever had the privilege to truly experience one you’ll know they really, really are not. []
2020-02-14T09:02:42+11:0016th June, 2020|Tags: , |

Special interests.

Commercial fishing is by far the greatest cause of ecological destruction at sea, but produces less income and employment in the UK than the industries it wrecks. Recreational angling alone, which is perpetually threatened by the absence of fish, generates more jobs and money than commercial fishing. Whale and dolphin watching, diving and snorkelling would, if allowed to prosper, greatly enhance the livelihoods of coastal people. And this is to say nothing of the unmeasurable improvements in the life of everyone connected to a thriving, abundant living system.

George Monbiot on industry.

A similar conversation goes on here with the coal industry, which is orders of magnitude less lucrative overall than the industries like tourism that it threatens both directly (coal plants and mines are ugly and polluting) and indirectly (due to climate change-related effects like coral bleaching).

But a hundred thousand tourism jobs are spread out across twenty thousand cafes, tour operators, and bed and breakfasts, none of whom individually has much political clout. Meanwhile, ten thousand coal industry jobs are spread across three or four multinationals whose owners can afford to spend millions on political donations and lobbyists.

And so it goes.

2020-02-12T08:51:46+11:0012th June, 2020|Tags: , |

Rubbish industry.

The reality of plastics recycling? It’s pretty much already dead. In 2015, the U.S. recycled about 9 percent of its plastic waste, and since then the number has dropped even lower. The vast majority of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced — 79 percent — has ended up in landfills or scattered all around the world. And as for those plastic shopping bags the kids were hoping to contain: Less than 1 percent of the tens of billions of plastic bags used in the U.S. each year are recycled.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to properly dispose of the array of toys, single-use clamshells, bottles, bags, takeout containers, iced coffee cups, straws, sachets, yogurt tubs, pouches, candy bar wrappers, utensils, chip bags, toiletry tubes, electronics, and lids for everything that passes through our lives daily. We have to. But we are well past the point where the heartfelt efforts of schoolchildren or anyone else on the consumer end can solve the plastics problem. It no longer matters how many hoots we give. There is already way too much plastic that won’t decompose and ultimately has nowhere to go, whether it’s mashed into a dragon container or not.

Sharon Lerner on waste.

From a long-but-worthwhile expose of the plastics industry, specifically around its efforts to prevent regulation by blame-shifting to consumer behaviour…

2020-02-11T12:12:21+11:0011th June, 2020|Tags: |


Modern recycling as we know it—the byzantine system of color-coded bins and asterisk-ridden instruction sheets about what is or isn’t “recyclable”—was conceived in a boardroom. The anti-litter campaigns of the 1950s, championed under the slogan of “Keep America Beautiful,” were funded by the producers of that litter, who sought to position recycling as a viable alternative to the sustainable packaging laws that had percolated in nearly two dozen states. In primetime commercials over the decades, American audiences met characters like Susan Spotless and “The Crying Indian” (played by Italian-American actor Espera Oscar de Corti) who urged consumers to lead the charge against debris: “People start pollution. People can stop it.”

Keep America Beautiful flaunted a fairy tale logic that demanded little from anyone. Landscapes would be rendered pristine as long as responsible citizens placed their garbage in the proper receptacle. Any unwanted items could be magically whisked away somewhere distant and unseen. In this fantasy world, polluted highways and parks were caused not by giant consumer brands who exclusively sold their goods in disposable packaging, or by raw material producers whose factories leaked toxic byproducts into rivers and lakes; the blame for environmental pollution was placed on the mythical hordes of careless individuals—“litterbugs”—who tossed food wrappers out of their car windows.

Matthew King on the birth of recycling.

The tl;dr here is basically that—and I’m sure you’re shocked to hear this by now—recycling was invented by companies to try and shift blame (and cost) from their own shitty practices onto individual consumers. But the “industry” itself has never been either effective or viable, and was basically a con from the start.

Note that this isn’t to say were should never recycle anything; only that the incentives in the current system are harmful, and that an actual solution is one that combines both scrap-reclamation and robust regulation on single-use items, especially plastics.

2020-01-29T12:24:47+11:0027th May, 2020|Tags: |
Go to Top