Reinventing ourselves

Beyond the Curb


This week I bumped into an article online that talked about food ingredients that were banned in many countries but were still allowed in the United States. While there is some controversy about the validity of the article and its source, The Calton Project, it is an example of how much we humans learn as we go, as we test, as we experience. We adjust our positions as we learn new things to better cater to our needs.

China had been a major importer of American trash — about 30 percent of paper and paperboard and almost 50 percent of plastic. When China realized that a great part of that was contaminated recyclables that wound up in Chinese landfills, their government decided to adjust their quality standards and a couple of years ago launched “Operation Green Fence” to reject shipments of contaminated material. 

That affected the United States. Material rejected by China was now being sent to American landfills and that forced some internal changes as well. As Steve Alexander, executive director of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, said on “[recyclers had to] focus more on quality of material and [keep] material more in North America,” benefiting the investment in better sorting technologies and the growth of new recycling businesses, like the ones dedicated to secondary sorting.

The growth in the amount of trash we have to deal with has forced us to find other alternatives — after all, the trash from our bins doesn’t ever go away. There is no “away,” there is just some place else and we have limited space on the planet. 

Since businesses are responsible for the biggest share of solid waste generated, fundamental change must happen before a significant impact is made toward what gets buried in the landfills, dumped in the oceans, or incinerated and thrown in the air we breathe.

Luckily, some businesses started to look to adjust their production to accommodate a “cradle to cradle” product lifecycle where, just like in nature, nothing is wasted, everything simply changes form — consistent with the law of conservation of matter — and discards from one become raw material for another, the start of an efficient industrial ecology.  

And just as essential as it is for businesses, we need to reinvent ourselves. “Waste is a uniquely human invention, generated by uniquely human activities” and to preserve our lives, where we live, and all that surrounds us, we must adjust our habits and aim higher — reduce, reuse and then recycle responsibly.

As Winston Churchill said, “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” and no better day to start that process than today.