Happy Zero Waste Day, The Event Formerly Known as America Recycles Day

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It is my favorite holiday of the year, more comedic than April Fools Day and scarier than Hallowe'en. It is the day when Nestlé Water, Anheuser Busch, Alcoa and Pepsi get together with their friends at the American Chemistry Council to pat you on the head for picking up their shit. They have spent fifty years teaching you how to throw stuff away; now they want to teach you to sort it all into neat little piles for them. I am going to do a little bit of recycling myself, from 2008:

America recycles day/Promo image

Lets call recycling what it is- a fraud, a sham, a scam perpetrated by big business on the citizens and municipalities of America. Look who sponsors the National Recycling Coalition: behind America Recycles Day: Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Owens-Illinois, International Bottled Water Association, the same people who brought you that other fraud, Keep America Beautiful.

Recycling is simply the transfer of producer responsibility for what they produce to the taxpayer who has to pick it up and take it away.

Read Recycling is Bullshit; Make Nov. 15 Zero Waste Day, not America Recycles Day

Heather Rogers; Message in a bottle/via

It wasn't always so; once upon a time Budweiser and Pepsi picked up after themselves like good little companies. They supported breweries and bottling plants all across the nation, employing people locally because shipping and returning refillable bottles was a local business.

wisconsin historical society/Public Domain

Then Miss Concrete and Miss Blacktop, with funding from their Uncle Sam, opened the interstate highway system and Budweiser and Pepsi found it was cheaper to ship their products from larger, central plants instead of brewing or bottling from concentrate like they used to. But then it was too expensive to return and refill the bottles, so they invented disposables.

keep America Beautiful/Promo image

But this created a new problem; people didn't know what to do with them, there were not a lot of public garbage cans (because there was not a lot of garbage before disposables and takeout food) so since the disposables had no value, people just threw them everywhere and it got ugly. So the manufacturers like American Can, Owens-Illinois and Coke founded Keep America Beautiful, hired an Italian actor to shed a tear, and taught people to pick up the bottles that they didn't want to pick up. And it worked; soon landfills were full, incinerators were overworked, environmentalists were complaining. Heather Rogers writes in Message in a Bottle:

All this eco-friendly activity put business and manufacturers on the defensive. With landfill space shrinking, new incinerators ruled out, water dumping long ago outlawed and the public becoming more environmentally aware by the hour, the solutions to the garbage disposal problem were narrowing. Looking forward, manufacturers must have perceived their range of options as truly horrifying: bans on certain materials and industrial processes; production controls; minimum standards for product durability.

So they invented recycling. Now, taxpayers pay for special trucks to pick up our little piles, giant separating facilities to separate the plastic bottles from the aluminum cans and the styrofoam clamshells, meanwhile hoping that someone will come and buy the stuff from them to downcycle it into something else.

Enough. Throwing stuff away isn't green, even if it goes into a blue or green bin. It is still throwing stuff away. We should be celebrating a Zero Waste Day, where we practice at least 7 Rs that don't include recycling:

  • Reduce: Just use less.
  • Return: Producers should take back what they sell. More and more of them, like Apple and Dell, are doing so now.
  • Reuse: Almost boring, but we throw too much stuff out too soon.
  • Repair: Fix and mend things rather than replacing them.
  • Refill: In Ontario Canada, 88% of beer bottles are returned to the beer store, washed and refilled; just south of the border in the USA, the number drops to under 5%.
  • Rot: Compost what is left over, turning it into valuable nutrients.
  • Refuse: Simply refuse to accept this crap from the manufacturers any more.

Over at Huffington Post, the North American president of Tetra Pak writes his paean to America Recyles Day:

Imagine the school lunch without its key essential -- the simple little carton of milk that's the most nutrition-dense food on the tray. Or a snack bag without its mainstay, the go-anywhere juice box that makes it effortless to have a healthy, sterile drink whenever want or need arises.

Sure. I imagine milk in a washable glass or a lunchbox with a refillable water bottle. I imagine a beer in a refillable bottle like the rest of the world outside the US enjoys, and eating a meal in a restaurant, not a car. I imagine a world of corporate responsibility for what they sell, which would be a world without recycling, because it is a world without waste. Now that would be worth celebrating.

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Tags: Holidays | Recycling | Waste

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