Recycling Reconsidered

Here’s an interesting article from Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld:

Recycling is not a new phenomenon. From the Sumerians who built the first-ever cities 4,000 years ago to modern Europe and America, virtually every civilization that has ever existed has tried recycling as a way to save its resources, and ultimately itself, from disappearing.

But it hasn’t worked once. Perversely, the reason is not because people didn’t try hard enough. The fact is, they tried too hard! By focusing so heavily on recycling and not on the primary reasons that resource availability and environmental problems arose in the first place, societies have consistently missed the real opportunities to sustain natural resources and thus their own human and financial resources.

So, let’s be honest. Recycling, for all its benefits, will never by itself prevent or remediate major environmental concerns such as climate change, habitat destruction, and loss of biodiversity. It is simply the icing on a very large, very thick, and very heavy, cake.

By the way, both the EPA through its Sustainable Materials Management program, and the G-7 in its latest Leadership Recommendations, all agree with this assessment.

What we really need to see is political dialogue relating to population growth and the concurrent increase and changes in consumption patterns. Thus, those of us in the packaging value chain must work harder to reverse the popular notion that a better environment starts with less packaging waste.

We also need to demonstrate that packaging’s critical role is to prevent waste of the far greater resources used to produce, transport and store the food and other goods contained within.

Again, recycling the packaging is merely the icing on the resource conservation/waste prevention cake.