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Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Please Recycle After Use" ....Why?

Frequently we see these few words throughout the day: on the plastic bottle of the Fiji water we drink, on the brown paper bags we bring home from Whole Foods, on the box of merchandise we buy from IKEA... Do we really read this and follow the “instruction” each and every time? –that’s a different story.
As we all know, the rules and processes of Recycling were introduced and adapted to reduce the negative and threatening environmental impacts.
It is great to see how responsible and considerate industries and people have become during the past decades by raising awareness and educating/inspiring/motivating each other. But, how often do you ask yourself “why recycle?”
Why are we recycling so much? Why produce so much, to consume and at the end recycle it all. Isn’t that an extra effort? Why not start from the beginning rather than the end: start producing less.

Subway Advertisement -Tehran, Iran
In order to stand in line while we are at the DMV, Immigration Office, Health Care Offices, etc. we must take a number printed on a piece of paper and wait for our turn. That small piece of paper is merely printed out for a 5-30min use (in our hands) before ending up in the recycle bin. What a short life-cycle, huh?! It’s the same story with the deposit/withdrawal slips at the bank, merchandise price-tags in stores, grocery store plastic bags, vitamin packs, checkbooks, post-it notes, etc. All of which go through the same consumption process -with a slightly different and shorter/longer life-cycle.
On the blue plastic bottle of food for my beta fish is printed: “feed 2-3 times a day”. A couple thoughts come into mind after reading this “helpful instruction”: 1.Of course for marketing purposes you (as a manufacturer) want me to use this product as much as possible to finish it and buy a new one as fast as possible. A very innocent marketing trick right?! 2. What happens when the bottle is empty? I just throw it away (or to speak the 21st century language: “recycle it”) and buy another one? And keep repeating this process until –god forbid, the fish dies... I guess that’s the “cool thing to do” nowadays.

Painting By: Regan Rosburg (www.reganrosburg.com)

Much to discuss but I must run to an exciting class, so I want to leave you with a very interesting quote from McDonough and Braugart’s amazing book: Cradle to Cradle –which I HIGHLY recommend you read regardless of your field of interest and professional occupation.
“Recycling is an aspirin, alleviating a rather large collective hangover....overconsumption”

A Dear Fiji Water Consumer, NYC, September 2010


  1. Provocative thought. I love the picture of the subway in Tehran. After all it came from what is known to most in the west as a "under developed country" RIGHT... and yet while visiting one of the most amazing places in the world... NY City... I never saw such a creative way of using a used can on a subway. Hmm
    Although - my host in NY did make my tear my paper towels in half in order to save paper ;).
    Well written Q. I learned something from "Qoogle" once again.

  2. Recycling is not only an aspirin, it is an integral part of the consumer culture that allows us to continue doing what we always did but to feel less guilty (or as McDonough and Braugart calls it, "less bad") about doing it. I get really mad when I read the labels of bottled water that say, "Look at us! We're using less plastic in our thinner caps".

    Until we get to the renewable society that Cradle to Cradle talks about, people are being proactive and building a culture of reuse through clothing thrift stores, dumpster diving for food, and sharing skills.

    A very culture-jamming piece of writing. I do hope you don't actually drink Fiji water. I can't think of a more environmentally unjust practice than to privatize the water of an indigenous society and ship it across the globe for consumption by affluent people.

    And "Qoogle" is such a cute name. I might start using you as my search engine :-).