Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Consumerism

So Baillie commented on the last post about the "Better Living" ads. I've been thinking about this problem for a little while.

I caught the end of a documentary on TVNZ 7 (it annoys me that I simply don't have the time to watch things like Back Benches and Media 7 these days) which was talking about drinkable water. A company sold bottled water promising that a large portion (if not all) of their profits would go into providing drinkable water to those most in need.

This doesn't quite sit well with me. You're selling a bunch of single use bottles in order to help people. But those bottles, if put into a landfill, last a couple of hundred years to deteriorate.

"But we recycle", you might say. I point you to this quote:
More than 2.4 billion pounds of plastic bottles were recycled in 2008. Although the amount of plastic bottles recycled in the U.S. has grown every year since 1990, the actual recycling rate remains steady at around 27 percent.
From this site.

This is a logarithmic curve. 27% gets recycled. Of that 27%, only 27% of those get  recycled. And so on and so forth. This is assuming that it gets recycled back into the product you've just thrown to recycling. Milk bottles apparently get made into road paint. Glass can end up in asphalt etc. Of course, these things don't get recycled.

So what needs to happen?

In India, and I hesitate to use India as a good example of environmental awareness, you have two options for drinks. You can buy a glass bottle, and drink on the premises - for which that bottle is then reused (not recycled - washed and reused) - or you can pay significantly more for a plastic bottle that you can take away with you.

I found it a little funny when I, as a tourist, was able to bring a tray of beers into a dry state in India. When I left, a great aunt was flabbergasted when I gave what was left of the tray to an Uncle. The problem? They were aluminium cans - and worth something. The fact that they were full of beer was insubstantial. As far as she was concerned, the beer had no value. The aluminium could be exchanged for cash.

A few years ago a friend and I went to a "Trailer Trash" party. We brought a swap a crate, dressed for the occasion and entered the party carrying the crate between us. I didn't quite understand the "Swap" bit in swap a crate. Instead, I threw one of the bottles in a recycling bin. It's the environmentally responsible thing to do right?

But no. The whole idea is that you return the crate, with the bottles. The bottles are reused, and in exchange, you can get another crate at a reduced rate.

You have to wonder at a society where one of the most environmentally friendly ways of consuming a beverage is only possible if you:
  1. Buy more of that beverage.
  2. Drink alcohol.
Add to that the sort of pressure the advertising industry is putting on us. Apparently, better living is achievable by using what are ultimately pointless products. You can store your food in the fridge in these handy disposable plastic containers! Okay - so you can use them more than once. How do they compare to something like Tupperware in terms of reuse?

I got a notice last year on my recycling bin. Apparently, though there are no clear guidelines that have been made evident to me about what you can and can't put in the recycling bin, I'm not allowed to put plastic bags in the recycling bin. They are recyclable. They can't be recycled via your recycling bin.

The bits that end up in your recycling bin, aren't always recycled. Take your mixed plastic containers such as yoghurt pots and some bottles (such as those that Primo comes in). There is no demand for recycled products of this type, so they still end up in land fills.

And besides which, it's always been: Reuse, recycle, reduce. So why don't we reuse more often? We're told that plastic deteriorates and releases dangerous chemicals.

What if we stopped using plastic? Can we not use glass? Okay - so the act of making glass results in carbon emissions. What if glass bottles were made to be more robust, such as those in India? The bottles could then be reused. Sure, products such as Coke would come in bottles that might, at times, seem a little rough. But why should that stop us from being environmentally friendly?

Reusable grocery bags bother me as well. We've gone from using disposable plastic bags to bags still made from hydrocarbons, but are less likely to rip after 1 or 2 uses. What would have been so wrong about paying perhaps $2-3 on bags made from more natural products such as cotton?

But what really annoys me. Despite the fact that I stubbornly refuse to use plastic bags. I've brought a soda stream machine so that I can have carbonated drinks without using disposable bottles. I'm quite happy with refrigerated tap water. I reuse where I can and recycle. There are:
  1. People who seem to think that it's okay to use this crap without any regard to the world around them.
  2. Businesses who offer you a bag for every freakin' thing.
A couple of years ago Countdown or Foodtown (I forget which) advertised that their staff would pack at least 5 items in each bag. Go down to the supermarket, and they were still packing 2 to 3 items in each bag. Their staff weren't trained. And why should they care? They're on very low wages. They've got other worries.

Could Coke make a huge grab for the market by offering concentrates of their drinks? Ethical and potentially a huge piece of the market. I doubt it'll happen. Still, it's nice to not completely rule out the possibility.

Let's quit this whole recycling buzz people. Let's reuse instead...

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