For those who have a love for this planet and a desire to ensure that the conditions remain such that human life (along with all other life forms) can continue to thrive, Earth Day, and these days Earth Week, have become somewhat of a call to arms, but for many corporations, the very corporations who have a large helping hand in creating pollution, Earth Week has become just another event from which to profit.
About a year ago I wrote an editorial about the state of the blue box recycling program (Blue Box Blues Should be a Problem For Manufacturers to Solve, Not Consumers, May 18, 2018), and in that editorial I shared with readers some bits of reality; most of what we put in our blue boxes simply can't be recycled, and it really should be the responsibility of manufacturers anyway.
“As diligent as we consumers have been at separating our waste and ensuring that we are recycling as much as possible, much of what we toss in our blue boxes causes problems for recycling companies,” I wrote last year to open that editorial, and I closed it with “There isn't much more that we consumers can do. We have been trained and conditioned to separate our waste and to recycle as much as possible. If what we're sending to the recycling facilities isn't worth the effort to recycle, or if the materials simply can't be recycled, that's not our problem, that is a problem for big business to solve. So to the manufacturers of containers and coffee cups, and a host of other materials – we've done our share as consumers, but you keep supplying us with products that create more problems, so it's your turn. You've enjoyed raking in profits while municipalities and consumers have attempted to solve the problem of recycling your products – it's time we tackled the root cause, and it's you, manufacturers.”
A year later, and with another Earth Week in full swing, nothing has really changed. On the CBC website this week, an article was published entitled Why Your Recycling May Not Actually Get Recycled, and in that article they noted many of the issues that I covered in last year's editorial. It noted: “In Canada, for example, only nine per cent of plastic waste is recycled. Mountains of material collected in blue bins is piling up in landfills, being incinerated, or adding to the swirling islands of plastic flotsam that are choking oceans and killing wildlife. According to some experts, recycling is in crisis.”
As I wrote last year, it is time for manufacturers to take up the mantle and use some of the huge profits they take in each year to become better stewards of this planet.
The blue box recycling program is unique in that no matter what your politics, no matter your views on climate change, and whether humans are helping it along, no matter what box you checked during the last election, the odds are that you are an active participant in the program. It is one of the few tools in the environmental movement that is universally accepted and respected, yet, as is becoming more and more clear, it is somewhat of a farce given that little of what we toss in those bins actually is recycled.
Yet as Earth Day approached this year, we saw corporation after corporation with slick advertising campaigns, using comforting green tones, and using all the right words, yet their actions don't match those words, it's just more corporate green-washing.
It isn't just corporations however, it is our governments that allow those corporations to shirk their responsibilities to this planet that we all share.
As was written in a Mother Jones column this week:
“Earth Day was created almost 50 years ago by then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), who was inspired by the civil rights movement as well as seminal investigations by Rachel Carson that appeared in her 1962 bestseller Silent Spring. The original marches involved 20 million Americans and took place in 1970, a momentous year of Richard Nixon’s presidency, when Congress passed the Clean Air Act that created the Environmental Protection Agency.”
“Huge, light-hearted throngs ambled down autoless streets here yesterday as the city heeded Earth Day’s call for a regeneration of a polluted environment by celebrating an exuberant rite of spring,” the New York Times wrote in a spread on Earth Day in its next-day edition, on April 23, 1970. “If the environment had any enemies they did not make themselves known.” As we have seen, the environment in fact has many enemies, and over time Earth Day came to mean a day even Trump’s EPA can celebrate, while attempting to weaken environmental protection to its lowest point since before Nixon.
So again, we the consumer have done our part. We sort our trash, we toss items in the blue bins, we drive more fuel efficient cars, we've changed our light bulbs over to CFLs or LEDs, we participate in community clean-up initiatives. But we've done our part, and we've been doing it for a long time – it is about time corporations stepped up in a real way, and stopped profiting from the Earth Day movement without actually taking steps to work toward solving the issues.