LETTER: Recycling just makes us feel better
This is not a viable solution because only about 10% of plastics are recycled
Leila Abboud’s article started to unwrap the paradox of the plastic problem but didn’t really go all the way (“From plastic revolution to revolution against plastic”, November 7). In light of the damage plastics are doing to the natural world, it is ironic that the objective of the first proto plastic, celluloid, was to save the elephant. In the 1860s billiards was extremely popular, and celluloid was sold as a replacement for ivory balls.
But we’ve only been in this plastic age for about 50 years. I can remember walking to the shops with my mum and buying liver from Mr Coffey the butcher, who wrapped it first in greaseproof and then brown paper, tied with string. How things have changed in our hydrocarbon economy. Who walks to the shops any more? We drive to the supermarket, where our groceries are packed in plastic bags screaming “please recycle me”.
Without cars and plastics the supermarket would never have happened. Plastic packaging will keep liver fresher for longer in a fridge than it would have in Mr Coffey’s shop. Nor will the liver be contaminated by household chemicals when we pack everything at random in the recyclable shopping bags. That’s why between 30% and 40% of all plastics end up as packaging. Ironically, another 20% ends up in cars.
Despite all the hype about recycling it’s just there to make us feel better. Only about 10% of plastics are recycled, and since we used more plastic in the first 10 years of the 21st century than we did in the whole of the 20th, recycling isn’t a viable solution. Collectively we have become addicted to plastic. And, like any addiction, while we hate the addictive substance, we cannot stop using it.
But Abboud’s article did supply a whiff of what would happen if we went cold turkey and dumped plastic for good. In that Utopia, food would be delivered from an “online” warehouse like Loop, via electric vehicle. No supermarkets and no internal combustion engines. Couldn’t that possibility be considered a “threat” in the retailers’ next strategic SWOT analyses?