I’m about to piss off some people, but enough already with the recycling.
Not that recycling is a bad thing. It is a very good thing. It is the moral, pragmatic, and responsible thing to do. It feels good too. I love rinsing out the empty baked bean tins, the wine, beer, and gin bottles, and the plastic cleaning jugs. I feel so content sorting them into their appropriate bins, then carting them off to the municipal recycling center where I dump the cans and plastics into larger bins then gleefully toss the glass bottles (hear them smash!) into the dumpsters that correspond to their colors–brown, green, blue, clear. I come home, rinse out my bins, stack them up in my utility room, and start all over again. Recycling feels good. Satisfying.
I feel like I should get a gold star for recycling or a certificate declaring:
Congratulations! You have done your part for the environment.
Recycling seems to have a built-in, feel-good quality to it, one that has been marketed along with the slogan: If we each just do our part, together we will save the planet.
That’s why I think we should stop recycling. Like most products hawked at us, recycling doesn’t deliver on its promise. In light of the colossal changes that our governments and businesses need to make in order to radically reduce greenhouse gases, our individual efforts are about as effective as curing a cancer patient by giving her a gentle pat on the back. It’s sweet, loving, appreciated, but ineffective in saving her life.
Are you feeling defensive? I understand if you are. I am desecrating a sacred rite of modern liberal environmentalism. But the reality is that in the face of the climate crisis that is upon us–the urgent need to force our leaders to act boldly and quickly, the scale of the problem we face–all of our efforts to sort those cans, bottles, plastic jugs, newspapers, glossy print magazines, and flattened cardboard boxes, is about as futile as rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. Deny it. Try to negotiate if you must. Get angry with me. Grow depressed. These are the necessary stages of grief many of us need to experience before we come to a place of accepting the shit storm that is upon us.
Of course recycle. It is a good thing. But as you rinse out that tin and sort those bottles and tie up those newspapers so neatly and set out the recycling for pick up or take it yourself, do so with the knowledge that these efforts will not save us. Don’t let the recycling euphoria sooth away the growing urgency to act as your life depends on it–because it does.
Want to do more than recycle? Consider attending the People’s Climate March Sept 21 in NYC and check out the LGBTQ Climate Manifesto. If you can’t get there, attend a regional event that same day or organize one yourself. Have teach-in to educate yourself, your friends, faith community, and neighbors.
Want to do more than just a one-day event? (I’m liking your enthusiasm!) Check out the Citizens Climate Lobby, a group that is assertively looking to place a fee on greenhouse gases as a way to radically cut consumption. They even have a plan to help households deal with the higher energy prices that will come with a carbon fee.
We will not recycle our way out of this crisis, no matter how good it feels. But there is still plenty we can and must do. What’s your next step?