Absolutely brutal essay from. Content warnings for animal injury and death, climate crisis, and discussions of mental health issues. Worth getting through if you can… but not exactly comfort reading.
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.
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.
Recycling is pretty much peakincarnated…
The world faces a great disaster. It is drying out and burning. There are floods and extinctions. The reefs are bleaching. Sea levels are rising. Refugees move across borders in greater and greater numbers. It is clear now that we will see in our lifetimes wars we might never have imagined.
The science says all this could still be arrested. The politics says it can’t be. It is worse than cynicism. It is a mass failure of caring, a misalignment of values. We are trapped in a continuous, declining present. We have no sense of the future and no leaders who will take us there.
On the center, not holding.
As someone who lives somewhere where, effectively, being able to afford plastic bags becomes a wealth marker, I admit to a bias in favor of. That being said, the article does recommend fees for bags, which is essentially what we have here, hence pointing out that it’s basically a You Must Be This Wealthy To Use Plastic Bags thing.
I mean though… it’s almost… like… individual consumer actions… don’t… actually make much difference? When it comes to addressing the problems of global capitalism? Wha-aa-aa-aa-at?
The political project of neoliberalism, brought to ascendence by Thatcher and Reagan, has pursued two principal objectives. The first has been to dismantle any barriers to the exercise of unaccountable private power. The second had been to erect them to the exercise of any democratic public will.
At the very moment when climate change demands an unprecedented collective public response, neoliberal ideology stands in the way. Which is why, if we want to bring down emissions fast, we will need to overcome all of its free-market mantras: take railways and utilities and energy grids back into public control; regulate corporations to phase out fossil fuels; and raise taxes to pay for massive investment in climate-ready infrastructure and renewable energy — so that solar panels can go on everyone’s rooftop, not just on those who can afford it.
Neoliberalism has not merely ensured this agenda is politically unrealistic: it has also tried to make it culturally unthinkable. Its celebration of competitive self-interest and hyper-individualism, its stigmatization of compassion and solidarity, has frayed our collective bonds. It has spread, like an insidious anti-social toxin, what Margaret Thatcher preached: “there is no such thing as society.”
Martin Lukacs on collective action.
This is a long excerpt, but one that always bears repeating: individual consumer actions cannot address systemic issues, and convincing you they can is neoliberalism’s greatest trick.
Stop freakin’ falling for it.