Ecocentricity Blog: Into the Garbage Shoot, Fly Boy
You know what I haven’t written about in a while? Star Wars. Let’s talk about Star Wars.
So remember in A New Hope when Luke and his rag tag band of merry men (and droids) go gallivanting about the Death Star to rescue Princess Leia? You know, they dress up as Stormtroopers, take over the cell block where Leia is imprisoned, Leia calls Luke short, and then they go tumbling down into a trash compactor? R2-D2 saves them from being squished like grapes, Obi-Wan pointlessly confronts Darth Vader and loses, and then everyone escapes on the Millennium Falcon? Of course you remember.But no! The Empire actually let them go, attaching a homing beacon to Han’s beloved ship so that it could lead them right to the Rebel base. Queue the Imperial March theme music. If that gets stuck in your head the rest of the day, you’re welcome. Since that film’s release in 1977, I bet tens of millions of plastic Millennium Falcons have been sold to fans. After making a whole bunch of imaginary Kessel Runs, I’m sure even these iconic toys break or are forgotten and wind up in a recycling bin. Imagine if you could stick a homing beacon on one of them just before it was dropped in a blue bin. Where might you see that ship go as you tracked it? Up until recently, there’s a decent chance that piece of plastic would have been dumped into a truck, driven to a recycling center, sorted and bundled with other pieces of the same plastic type, trucked to a port, loaded onto a tanker, shipped across the globe to China, trucked to one of their recycling centers, and then finally recycled into base plastic for use in some doohickey. That’s quite a chain of events that starts with lifting the lid of a blue bin! But this is all about to change. Earlier this year, China decided to ban foreign imports of different types of solid wastes, effective January 1, 2018. As a result, Chinese recycling companies won’t be buying American recyclables, which will crater the global demand for those materials. Without new buyers, poor little Millennium Falcon and his plastic compatriots will soon find themselves taking a much shorter trip – right to the local landfill. NPR did a good job covering this story recently, and you can learn more here. My personal take is that this is both bad and good news. Bad because tons and tons of valuable material will soon end up in landfills when it all could have been recycled. Good because shipping bales of the stuff to the other side of the world can’t be the best system for reclaiming the worth of these materials. It’s time for the recycling world to innovate and shift back to localization where possible. It’s not all on recycling companies though. As consumers, we have a huge role to play. We should vote with our dollars and reward producers who incorporate recycled content into their products. We should educate ourselves about how recycling works, so that we can put the right things into our blue bins and minimize recycling contamination. We should be willing to sort hard-to-recycle material and take it to a specialized facility. And, in the spirit of last week’s blog, we should be mindful of what we consume, minimizing the material we eventually have to dispose of in the first place. Just ask Han, Chewbacca, et al. The trash compactor isn’t a fun place to hang out. We can do our part to minimize what eventually becomes trash.