Bitterly Environmental

A recent post on a Flickr group called Flickr Central  has sparked a number of anti-recycling replies and lots of self-contratulatory back patting amongst those right-wing anti-environmental head-in-the-sand types who are proud to say they do not recycle.

One person said they don’t recycle anymore ‘because Penn and Teller on their TV show said it was useless’. It made me remember how much I detest Penn and Teller’s show. When I first saw them perform I thought they were so cool. Later I realized they actually had a right-wing agenda couched in trying to be ‘cool’. They are sceptics, which is not a bad thing, but they are right-wing (supposedly ‘libertarian’ but whatever) sceptics who conveniently lie when their ‘scepticism’ is in fact just a window dressing for a political outlook – and that is a bad thing. They leave out hugely important points in their analysis as well, and because they come off as intelligent and because most Americans watching their show are not so smart, it makes ’em seen right a lot of the time.  Sometimes it’s harmless BS and I could not care less, such as the show debunking people who claim to communicate with the dead for money. I imagine that their opinion on this particular issue will have little effect on the overall industry of psychics.

But with Recycling – here they are encouraging people to continue to sit on their asses and ‘do nothing’ which will only damage to the environment. To suggest that recycling is a ‘bad thing’ or a ‘wasteful and stupid’ thing to do is simply an irresponsible lie (oh and don’t get me started on their dumb ass program on how second hand smoke is not harmful … probably sponsored by the tobacco industry).  This is where I get pissed off.

First of all, Penn and Teller are clever and distort facts. They try to make it sound ‘uncool’ to recycle – but who actually loses out if you dare to recycle ? Oh yeah, maybe some big strip mining interests somewhere … but not me, and not the average person. Even if I waste a few minutes a day paying attention (and it becomes a habit after a few months believe me) and even if only a fraction of what I put into the recycling bin is recycled … that is still more waste material than would be recycled and would benefit the planet than if everyone STOPPED doing it. And, more than a ‘fraction’ of what you put into the bin IS indeed recycled. But they argue there is no benefit to recycling. Of course their arguement is a fallacy – it is purely based on MONEY which is of course not the only thing in the world to consider when judging the benefit of a given practice! Oh, wait, unless you are a right-wing capitalist. Maybe then it make sense. But naw … not if you have children and actually care about the world they will inherit. What are these guys thinking ??? I bet they are thinking … hey we’ll say a lot of controversial crap on our show and make tons of money! Probably that’s the ticket. That and their strip mining industry friends …

Recycling an item to make another of the same, or a similar derived item may take more energy or money in certain cases than digging it up fresh and reproducing from raw materials, but in the end if the raw material is something you do not want to keep extracting from the planet (and that you will run out of or destroy the environment in the process of extracting it ) then that part of the benefit is not in their little equation. If you simply don’t want to keep on creating more and more plastic for example in the world, then it make sense to recycle what you have and stop adding to the existing stocks rather than to add to the growing piles of waste, even if it costs more than using raw materials because you are saving the raw resources and you are saving the waste, and you are not creating more chemical crap to pollute your planet.

Reduce first – don’t create waste to start with. Then, Reuse if possible. But if those two are not possible, then Recycling is the next option. Tossing it into the ocean or incinerating it into the skies should not even be an option to be quite honest as the 4th choice.

Money (ie what is cheaper or more ‘cost effective’ to make) should not be the primary consideration in the decision to recycle something – the reason one recycles is to ensure we do not strip the earth’s resources and waste them … not so some fat cat capitalist makes as much money as possible from the production of his products ?! This Digg article shows a bunch of great comments of people pointing out the stupidity of Penn and Teller’s lines of reasoning : 

But what leads us to need to recycle so much ‘stuff’ these days ? A deadly combination of too much waste — too much ‘stuff’ and too much laziness and addiction to that laziness at the expense of the planet. We are lazy without having to experience the direct cost of that laziness, because we ship our garbage elsewhere and by the time it comes back to bite us in the butt, the damage will be done and done for centuries.

Here is what I hate most – overpackaging. For example -why do all my vegetables have to be shrink-wrapped ??? I am going to wash them anyhow – I don’t need them wrapped in plastic that I then have to toss out. In the past few years I’ve noticed more and more tendency for stores to plastic shrink wrap produce. Or why is meat (which I do not eat but others do) and cheese packaged in STYROFOAM – a horrid product if there ever was one – and then shrink wrapped on top of it before it is put on shelves. Why do I need a cardboard box around some crackers which are then subdivided in a plastic ‘bento box’ and further wrapped in plastic ? I can buy those same crackers out of a bulk bin and at home store them in an airtight re-usable container and it doesn’t cost me or the planet any trouble. But stores no longer expect people or demand people have containers at home to store food in as they used to do – no – now everything must be packaged in toss away containers.

If we used more PEOPLE (ie provides jobs) and went back to the days where you ordered your prepared deli salads and meats from the deli or meat counter where it was stored in glass or stainless steel large containers, and then it was scooped up or cut when you ordered and wrapped in PAPER for you as you got it, or put into a cardboard container you would find less need for styrofoam packaging to keep meat ‘looking good’ until you can be bothered to get off your fat butt and drive your 4×4 down to the store to buy it. The only reason styrofoam is now used is because things are so overprocessed now and full of chemicals to give them a longer shelf life (which is of course worse for your health) that the liquids would leak through a cardboard container if kept on the shelves in that container for their entire (too long chemically enhanced) shelf life. Go back to more natural products with realistic shelf lives, and actually re-learn to make only enough fresh food to meet the demands of your communities (ie local producers again) and packaging can be limited.

McDonalds and other fast food outlets are another huge source of waste. Thank goodness they got rid of their styrofoam containers for burgers, but you still are given plastic straws and spoons that you will use for perhaps 30-90 seconds before throwing out and then having that plastic straw or spoon leach out into the ground water or float around in the ocean for the next 1000 years … that trade off simply does not seem ‘right’ to me.

You can do simple things and more complicated things to try to help and raise awareness of others.

Luckily in France many stores no longer give out plastic bags – you must buy bags, and reusable ones are preferred. I always use these now. I no longer take new plastic bags from the rolls at the vegetable area when I buy vegetables – I bring old ones from home and reuse them or if I forget, I simply take the vegetables and put them into the cart and make the checkout person put them on the scale all at once to weigh them. If the vegetables are pre-shrink wrapped I try to avoid them entirely for a non-shrink-wrapped one (ie I will no longer shop at Migros chains due to their extensive overpackaging) or complain to the store manager if this is my only option.

To me, overpackaging is one of the biggest issues causing pollution now on the planet. Well, that and the switch to plastic for packaging over more biodegradable options.

Does anyone remember when milk, juices and other drinks came in GLASS ? I think that this was better for us (plastics which are made from petro-chemicals can leach toxins out into the liquid product, especially if left in the sunlight) and the taste of the stuff inside the container was better. Also glass can often be reused. Why is not not used as often anymore? Weight. It weighs a lot, so transport costs go up. Breakage – glass breaks more often (supposedly) than plastic bottles.

However a tradeoff is that glass can be re-sterilized and reused very efficiently without having to be recycled first. Remember the days when bottles were returned and then re-used by the manufacturer? Why did that stop? This offsets to me the extra cost of transport (especially if we go back to buying local and having smaller local manufacturing and distribution centers rather than giant wasteful consolidated ones requiring long transport). But obviously plastics manufacturers had some very good salesmen.

Personally I think that plastic bottles should be banned … I think there is no reason for ‘soda’ or ‘pop’ in the world and if other liquids arrived in glass, it would keep the world a lot cleaner.

And how much does anyone think about the giant plastic soup island floating around in the pacific  ocean as you toss out that shrink wrapped styrofoam meat package, yogurt container or unrecyclable plastic container ?

Another thing that irks me – the recent trend for ‘organic’ or ‘bio’ (in France) products … and then these ‘healthy products’ are wrapped in plastic unrecyclable containers! One good thing is that a chain of Bio stores called Satoriz in France is enforcing a rule towards all their suppliers to use recyclable packaging by a certain date … they have given them time to make changes … and if changes are not made, the stores will no longer distribute that product until it is made truly ‘bio’ with respect for the environment not just in the growing but also in the distribution of that food product.

And of course tomorrow is Saturday … market day here … and I will go and seek out the local farmers and buy their produce that is farmed w/o chemicals and with a lot less petrol (gasoline) to bring it to market.

So start complaining to the stores you shop at, start writing letters to food and beverage manufacturers and distributors,  and demand that products are packaged in re-usable and recyclable containers. One of my friends has another good idea to bring it home to the stores you shop at … he leaves the overpackaging at the store, at the checkout and explains to the checkout clerk as he does it, how much he hates the overpackaging. The idea is to put a burden on the store, raise their awareness even more than a letter does, and see if that sparks a change in how products are packaged.

Good stuff – paper and cardboard (only those in fact produced w/o bleach which produces the toxic dioxin and preferably recycled paper and cardboards), glass, aluminium containers and ‘tetrapak’ containers (all reusable or recyclable) and begrudgingly type 1 or 2 plastic containers (but I still hate ’em though at least they can be recycled). Also there are some new packaging materials made from corn or potato starches to resemble plastic apparently do biodegrade faster, but there is some question on whether or not this is a good use of this food product.

More good stuff – bring your own containers to the store to hold ‘bulk’ items that you take yourself from bulk bins in stores which support/provide this, bring your own bags or re-use the cartons or crates the store receives their deliveries in to take home your groceries, shop at local markets and support local farmers (using your own bags/containers!).

Compost. Oh it drove me crazy to live with a roommate who would not do this simple task. By myself either my dogs eat the leftovers or they are composted. I have a small container in the kitchen and it gets emtpied into the garden composter daily or every other day. There is no reason to throw vegetable peelings, old bread, dead spaghetti, rotten apples, mouldy leftovers or anything else of an organic nature into the garbage bin if you have a yard/garden.

I don’t even grow a vegetable garden anymore but I still compost. It’s super simple – I made a cylindrical bin ‘container’ out of some wire fencing and all lawn clippings and spoiled food not fit for doggie consumption goes in there. You’d think it would fill up ‘fast’ but it does not in fact because as things rot, they compress back down again. Once a year at the end of the year just before it snows, I lift up the bottom of the wire ‘cylinder’ I created (it has no bottom) and let the black goo out. I use a rake to spread it out on the lawn. Voila – lawn fertilizer. By springtime after being under the snow for a few months, it’s invisible and the grass that grows up is greener. It doesn’t smell and I have only a tiny tiny yard (small strips of land surrounding my house only 400 sq metres). I guess if you have an apartment, you are exempt from this but some cities even offer a composting service where you can drop off your organic waste if you truly cannot be bothered to do this in your own garden.

Reduce, reuse, recycle and compost. And don’t run out to upgrade your stupid Apple iPhone just ‘because’ it seems cool – that coolness is only designed for one thing – to separate you from your money. Stop the mad consumption for the sake of consumption. What you are is not what you buy! Economists must stop judging purely on an ever-expanding economy and start looking at what it would be like to develop a self-sustaining economy instead based not purely on raping the planet but on using and re-using resources wisely in a sustainable manner.

Some stats on how long things take to biodegrade (or if they indeed ever do):

Banana Peel: 3-4 weeks

Paper Bag: 1 month

Cotton Rag: 5 months

Wool Sock : 1 year

Lumber : 10-15 years

Tinned Steel Can: 80-100 years

Aluminum Can : 200-500 years (But if recycled, it can be reused within 6 weeks!)

Disposable Diapers: 500-600 years (and lots of nasty chemicals)

Plastic Bags : 1 million years (and lots of nasty chemicals)

Styrofoam: Eternity (and lots of nasty chemicals)

73 billion mostly styrofoam cups and plates are being thrown away every year in USA. According to EPA statistics, a total of 3,810 thousand tons of plastic containers and bottles were thrown away in 2003. The above numbers do not include trash bags, grocery bags and other plastic materials like trays, utensils, clam shells, caps and other plastic packaging. A total of 8000 thousand tons of these items were discarded in 2003.

Plastic and styrofoam disposables are made from petroleum based chemicals and additives. Petroleum is not only becoming an increasingly scarce resource, but it causes pollution and toxicity every step of its use – extraction, transportation (e.g. oil spills), refining and eventual production of the end use product. In addition the end use products made of styrofoam and most plastic (except 1 and 2) do not degrade and persist in the environment causing further pollution and toxicity and cannot be recycled.

All this to hold a stupid piece of bloody dead cow,lamb, pig or horse so it looks ‘pretty’ before you buy it off the shelf – is this REALLY necessary people ? Should 1 million years of persistency or more be a good trade off for a pretty piece of dead meat that is held in the container for perhaps 3-5 days and then discarded to wash around the ocean for the next eternity ? Why are these products even ALLOWED as packaging anymore by any nation with a conciousness?



  1. I kinda like it – I can disagree with someone and still be entertained – sure they distort the facts but the far left does the same thing (PETA comes to mind) – that was an interesting episode come to think of it.


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