We live in a world of ever-diminishing resources. Our supplies are running out both of raw materials to make things out of, and of ways to get rid of them when we’ve finished with them. So, we’re now being asked to recycle our waste – everything from milk bottles to cars and televisions.
Whose damnfool idea was that?
A few years ago, we got our milk in glass bottles. The milkman would leave them on the doorstep, and when we’d drunk the contents, he’d come back and take the empties away. The dairy would wash them out, refill them, and give them back full of milk. Round and round they went, filling and emptying, filling and emptying. And when a bottle finally wore out or got broken or became too revolting or scratched to use any more, it would be sent back to the bottle factory and melted down and turned into a whole new bottle, ready to go round and round all over again.
It wasn’t just milk. Fizzy pop came in glass bottles too, and 10p-worth of pop would carry a 1p deposit on the bottle. Even if you didn’t care enough about the penny to take the bottle back to the shop, you could leave the bottle lying around somewhere and all the local kids would collect them for the pennies. All the bottles fit for re-use would be re-used.
How great for the environment is that? And this is the days before anyone cared very much about the environment.
Nowadays we don’t do it like that. Nowadays milk and pop come in plastic bottles, on grounds of that catch-all excuse “Health and Safety”. But consider this:
|Glass bottles cost about 6p to make.||Plastic bottles cost about 6p to make|
|Glass bottles can be used on average ten times.||Plastic bottles can be used only once (because it’s impossible to sterilise them).|
|At the end of their life, glass bottles can be melted down and turned into new bottles||At the end of their life, plastic bottles can’t be turned into new bottles, they can’t buried in landfill (because they stay there for 24,000 years), and they can’t be burned (because they release gallons of miasma which poisons our fresh, clean air)|
The only thing you can do with a plastic bottle, once you’ve drunk its contents, is to recycle it. Recycling old bottles is the green thing to do, the environmentally-responsible thing to do. It’s – well, it’s a bloody stupid thing to do, actually!
Since the dustbin men won’t take my bottles away, I’ve got to load them into the back of my car and drive (carbon … carbon) to the dump, where they’re put into a skip. Then a lorry comes along, picks up the skip, and drives (carbon, carbon) to the docks where the bottles are poured into containers and loaded onto a ship which steams halfway around the world (CARBON! CARBON!) to China, where they all get “recycled”.
You know what happens in China? There’s actually not much of any use that you can make out of waste plastic – it’s no good for food, so you can’t make new bottles out of it – so half of it gets burned right away on huge, stinking bonfires – so there goes our clean air. The other half gets shredded, drawn, and eventually rendered down into clothes (fleeces, blankets, and so on), loaded back on a ship, and sent (CARBON! CARBON!) back here, so we can wear our garbage.
And when our garbage clothes eventually wear out? What then? We throw them away (because not even the Chinese can think of anything to do with old woollies). It goes into landfill (because, remember, you can’t burn it). And says there for – you have been listening, haven’t you? – 24,000 years! Did you know that 75% of non-biodegradable landfill is clothes? So it ends up as landfill anyway, in spite of all that transportation and processing.
(Note to self: perhaps global warming isn’t caused by carbon at all – perhaps it’s caused by mountains of worn-out winter clothes piling up all over the planet!)
Does this pantomime make any sense to you? It shouldn’t. It’s insane. Worse than that, it’s expensively insane. Worse still: it’s expensively, destructively, pointlessly insane. You see, we have a perfectly cheap, simple, and effective alternative staring us in the face. Those old glass bottles: they went back to the bottling plant on the same lorries that transported the full ones: It’s zero cost. You can refill them without having to extract yet more precious oil and wrap up the whole of South Wales in threadbare hoodies: Still zero cost. You can turn old, end-of-life bottles into shiny new bottles for next-to-zero cost.
And if you really believe the health and safety propaganda that your fellow humans’ spittle is toxic to life even after having been sterilised in a bottling plant at 500 degrees, then you can use cardboard cartons instead. You can’t re-use them, of course, but you can burn them: they’re made of trees, and that means (a) they don’t make sticky oily smoke that stays dangerous for 24,000 years, and (b) they don’t raise carbon dioxide levels.
If I could buy my milk in returnable glass bottles I would. If I could buy milk in cardboard Tetrapaks, I would. But when I look in my dustbin, it is populated entirely by plastic bottles, plastic food trays, plastic carrier bags, and plastic coated oojamaflips. I’m being told that I have to take responsibility for getting rid of my rubbish, and I can’t simply throw it away. But this isn’t my rubbish, and it shouldn’t be my problem – I never wanted it in the first place! Why do I have to find a way to get rid of someone else’s rubbish?
It seems to me that if we can’t re-use something, re-purpose it, or dispose of it cleanly, then we have no business making it at all. We shouldn’t be trying to figure out expensive and environmentally-destructive ways of recycling this stuff – we should never have made it in the first place!
So I have a suggestion to make. I think we should return to the principle behind the old glass milk bottles. I think, instead of taking empty plastic bottles to the dump, we should be allowed take them (along with all the other, useless, toxic packages) back to the shop we bought them from, and they should be obliged to take them.
I know the store doesn’t determine what sort of packaging the milk comes in, so it seems harsh that they should be lumbered with its disposal. So they, in turn should be able to pass it on, up the chain to their supplier, and so on, until it reaches its point of manufacture. If nobody can find anybody else who wants it, the original manufacturer should take responsibility for it – preparing it for re-use, re-purposing it, or disposing of it in an environmentally-civilised manner (that is: not dumping it all on a stinky Chinese bonfire!)
Now, this will do two things: firstly, it will build the cost of getting rid of the packaging right into the cost of the product, where it should be: hard-to-dispose packaging will be relatively expensive, and so unattractive both to retailers and their customers. Secondly, it will encourage producers to select packaging which either (a) has a lasting value (as in the case of the endlessly-circulating milk bottles) or (b) which can be disposed of as far down the chain as possible (for example when burning cardboard cartons for heating).
So: reduce – definitely! Re-use – by all means. But recycle? No. It’s bad for the environment. Don’t get involved. Just say “No”.