Reduce, Reuse, Re...think
Recycling is a sham. Even if it were the great process of rebirth that we think it is, there's a reason why it's listed last in the popular colloquialism "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle". These words in order represent the best possible course of action when it comes to wasteful materials. Reducing our reliance on them should be number one. Reusing things should be number two. And as a last resort, we can try to recycle certain materials into something else for a different purpose.
It's not easy to hear that the blue bins you've been using to avoid feeling wasteful really don't work. Even if recycling worked as expected, it still uses up a lot of energy and produces more toxins, fumes and pollutants that seep into our air and water. If we're lucky in the end, what you get out of that process is... more plastic? John Oliver explains further, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsxukOPEdgg
In recent years many of us have tried to do away with plastic straws, plastic grocery bags, water bottles and the like. And the effect has probably been net positive, but we need to take it a step further. Personally we can reuse bags, water bottles, etc., but the things we buy are still coming to us shrouded in plastic. From the packaging itself to the shipping materials preventing it from breaking during the lengthy cross-country trip.
Therein lies problem number one. Many years ago while beginning a thesis in Architecture I asked the question, "Where does it all come from?". It was an acknowledgement that the avocado I had just eaten wasn't grown in the Boston area.
Looking at the US specifically, I realized that much of the food we eat gets shipped from various corners of the country. And this amount of trucking, coupled with its plastic wrapping and lack of recycling, is a major detriment to our push for a more sustainable lifestyle. Even if you have some reusable grocery bags, everything in that bag is surrounded in plastic, and has been throughout the entire transportation process. Not growing food closer to where we live, is holding up our progress towards a more sustainable lifestyle. At a farmers market, you don't have to buy your lettuce in a clear shiny box. You don't have to contain your apples in a wispy, static-electrically charged bag.
We need to un-industrialize our food economy. Things should be grown locally, and sustainably (that goes without saying). Even though we must accept some constraints on the latter. We have the technology to work around weather and climate, although it'd take a concession in sustainability to do so (heating greenhouses in the winter, providing water and artificial sunlight when nature lacks it). But a concession in the efficiency of growing could be offset by the reduction of cross country trucking, constant refrigeration, warehousing and general waste of unsold products at grocery stores. Agriculture on a small, local scale could be more responsive to the actual purchasing trends of those customers. In contrast to say, a singular monoculture avocado farm in California, growing as many avocados as they can, shipping them out and not knowing nor caring whether they sell or not. It's wasteful.
“Just because we can ship organic lettuce from the Salinas Valley, or organic cut flowers from Peru, doesn’t mean we should do it, not if we’re really serious about energy and seasonality and bioregionalism.” - Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm, Swoope, VA
Planned upcoming explorations on this subject:
CSA's and locally sourced food
Reusable Grocery Carts
Fountain Drink Everything