Make Me Believe That You Care

Recycling just isn’t going to cut it.


Stephanie Gay

Recycling is an easy way to do your part in helping to preserve the environment, yet it still doesn’t make a significant change in the issues our planet continues to face. Aiding the future of the global environment should be at the forefront of our minds, as we instead shift our focus on reducing our waste and limiting use of natural resources.

The rewarding clatter of the plastic water bottle into the green recycling bin seems to be the best feeling. Look at you. You consciously made the choice to help the environment. And it feels good. You could have tossed it in the trash or littered it on the side of the road, but no. You care about the environment. Kudos.

You walk away from this seemingly rewarding moment, from the clear bottle in the green bin, with a sense of pride. You’ve done your part. But in a world where the United Nations predicts we have only 12 years to make widespread, dynamic, massive policy changes before the effects of climate change become irreversible, recycling one little thing to fulfill your “environmental action” quota just won’t cut it these days.

I don’t even need to go into the obvious importance of recycling over trash, but the amount of resources, time and effort that goes into the actual recycling process means it shouldn’t be the bare minimum. Never mind that, according to National Geographic, a whopping 91 percent of plastic isn’t recycled, and a large percentage of what is ends up dumped in toxic, immense landfills. It simply isn’t profitable enough for companies to recycle plastic, due to the cheap costs of buying new plastic products and of burning plastic.

What do we know for sure, though? The environment is dying. The planet is falling apart. The last four years have been the four hottest since global temperature records began. By 2030, as denoted by the United Nations Environment Programme, half of the world’s population will live in areas of high water demand or need.

Of course, it’s easier right now to just keep living your life. But will it be easier, according to UN environmental research teams, when oceans continuously rise, when coastal communities are displaced, when plastic is in every piece of food you eat, or when the demand for crops far surpasses the supply?

I understand how easy it is to recycle, to feel that bit of euphoria when you feel like you’ve done something. I get it. It’s easier to just do that. But it’s also incredibly frustrating to me to see our resources being rapidly depleted and feel as if everybody is just ignoring it. And we are. We go about our daily lives, leaving the issues of the world just as forgotten as that clear bottle in that green bin.

What the planet needs from you is reduction.  We have a finite set of resources with finite land and finite time, yet explosive population growth.

We need active awareness of consumers in what they choose to buy and what businesses they choose to support. We need metal straws, paper or reusable bags, recyclable containers, biodegradable materials and compost piles. We need a reduction of food waste. We need fewer people eating beef; raising cows is estimated to cause about one-fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions and use 10 times more resources than poultry, eggs, pork or even dairy, as reported on the Smithsonian’s website.

I’m not here to say that recycling isn’t important. But I feel that it’s colloquially touted as this end-all, be-all solution to an end-all problem that is actually continuously exacerbated due to this mindset. Please, take a chance on taking action; don’t let the plastic bottle in the green bin be our legacy.