Monday, July 30, 2012

Thoughts on Recycling and Green Products

Global warning
Reading this article from Grist got me thinking about how the whole recycling movement might actually be bad for the earth.  The Grist article talks about how companies give the appearance of being eco-friendly when they 1) make their packaging look "green"; 2) encourage recycling.  The truth is that neither of these actions is truly beneficial to our environment.

Of course, using the color green or brown paper or other seemingly "natural" things doesn't really do anything at all.  Using a green bottle is no different than using a clear or red bottle.  And creating product names, descriptions, or logos that conjure up images of healthy living does nothing for the environment.  One brand of personal care products (shampoo, conditioner, etc.) comes to mind:  it's packaged in a bright green bottle and the brand name makes one think of fruit.  However, neither the bottle nor the ingredients are healthy or good for the planet.  

Many grocery stores offer recycling bins for plastic shopping bags.  I have watched people arrive, grab their cache of plastic bags, drop them in the bins, make their purchases, and carry everything out in brand-new bags, leaving feeling satisfied that they have done something good for the environment.  However, nothing good has actually happened.  The manufacture of the new bags plus the process of recycling the old bags does very little for the planet.  Yes, recycling keeps the bags out of landfill (that is, if the bags are actually recycled rather than just added to the store's dumpster at the end of the day).  But reusing those plastic bags would be better and using one's own reusable bags is best.  Dropping off yesterday's grocery bags for recycling while picking up new ones doesn't make sense. 

You see, nasty chemicals are used in the manufacturing process for packaging, such as bottles, boxes, lids, and clam shell cases.  And the process itself releases more chemicals into the air, ground, and water.  Then, when well-meaning citizens wash, sort, and add the used packaging to recycling bins, more chemicals released into our world through the transportation and recycling process.  

We need people who think beyond the buzzwords.  When people perceive that companies are trying to be green, they think they've done their part.  But the old saw of sustainability is reduce, reuse, and then, when everything else has been done, recycle.   Recycling should be the last resort - not the first line of defense - in protecting our environment.

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