A viral hoax photo of the climate strike aftermath has been circulating like wildfire. The photo claims to show a park in Australia riddled with garbage and accusing the climate strikers of the mess. It didn’t take long for this photo to be debunked. Within a few hours of it’s first share, the Guardian released an article calling out the false image. This image was actually taken after a 420 festival in Hyde Park London, UK back in April.
I found out about the photo the Sunday following the climate strike when a woman posted it in a group dedicated to cleaning up Macomb County Michigan. “They claim to care about the environment,” she angrily wrote in her post. I immediately took to the, more times than not, helpful internet only to find the Guardian article almost immediately. Before I could call her out for passing along a fake image, several other members of the group had done just that, but not before the original post shared by a man named Joe Storkson — who may or may not have plans to run for office — was shared close to 200,000 times. By the end of the day, it had been shared close to 300,000 times and I predict it will hit 1 million in no time unless Facebook takes it down.
What if that photo was accurate after all? I’m sure when you have over 3 million people gathering around the world, you will most likely encounter a certain amount of litter. After all, it is an unfortunate characteristic of humans. Is that enough to discredit the entire climate movement? I would argue it is not.
Is the act of littering ever acceptable? Absolutely not. It drives me crazy and infuriates me when I’m on a walk or a run and pass a bunch of garbage on the side of the road. I once saw a man toss his coffee cup out the window of his car and wanted to speed up and tell him what a garbage human he was for doing that. Why would you ever feel so entitled to throw your trash on the ground at this point in our history? Who failed you in life to think that was an acceptable act? But it happens and will continue to happen because we have been living in a wasteful and very self-centered society.
While I would never condone the act of littering under any circumstance, even if you accidentally drop something, to call an entire movement hypocritical because of the actions of a few is what you call a hasty generalization and is one of the most popular fallacies as of late. If litter was left behind at a climate strike where nearly 3.5 million people were estimated in attendance throughout the world, and there is a good chance that did happen, do you really think it is logical to call that entire group of people hypocrites for the actions of only a portion of those strikers? I don’t, but I would have to say it is up to the leaders of the movement to address any form of littering that may have taken place. And we really don’t know the extent of these actions unless we were there, do we?
What is most irritating to me about this fake photo being used to discredit a very important movement is the fact that the same people attempting to use that photo as fuel, refuse to blame the real culprits of pollution or admit that we are in fact facing a very serious problem. While we sit here trying to point the finger at individual action, we allow those major corporations who contribute to the majority of carbon emissions and production of the very items used to litter to just skip by without any accountability. These companies pollute our environment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and have been for decades. If you are privileged enough to not have to see it for yourself every day, I implore you to go hang out in the Delray neighborhood of Detroit’s Southwest side and tell me it isn’t a problem. So even if that viral photo was true, the amount of damage to the environment on that one day by that one movement, during that one event pales in comparison to the damage done by these companies on a daily basis.
I understand we are an angry society. We are always trying to “own” the other side in some way to try and prove our side is the right side, but we are really doing a lot of damage when we constantly take what we see on Facebook or our favorite news network at face value. It takes minutes if not seconds to find out if something is true and that’s all thanks to the people who take truth seriously and are tired of people hitting that ‘share’ button without thinking twice about it. Do the research and stop being part of the problem. You hate how people talk to each other these days? Then stop causing that disrespect. Over 200,000 people shared that false photo within 2 days of it being posted and not one of those 200,000 people attempted to verify it was accurate. Don’t be that person. I have reported that photo to Facebook as being fake and encourage anyone who comes across it to do the same until they do something about it. And to the people who willfully take these images knowing they aren’t accurate but so desperately want to stick it to those they disagree with, go do something productive for society.
We’ve all seen the 3 arrow symbol in the shape of a triangle on all that packaging we collect and most people refer to it as the “recycling symbol”. That is exactly why I decided to write this article. We have been referring to that triangle as the recycling symbol when it was originally intended to urge consumers to reduce first, then reuse, then when all else fails, recycle. Reduce, reuse, recycle. We have been skipping those first two crucial steps and jumping straight for the least beneficial step of them all.
The purpose of this article is to try and explain how recycling became so ineffective and to convince at least one person to start implementing those first two steps. On a planet of over 7 billion and counting, however, I am afraid it is going to take at least 1 million more to make any sort of impact.
BUT I RECYCLE! Says most everyone.
So many times I have found myself engaged in conversation about waste when just as I think things are going well, the person I happen to be conversing with proudly states, “oh we recycle.” I then have to kindly explain how that doesn’t really help the situation and is actually part of the problem. Once I begin to suggest reducing waste in the first place, it is safe to say I have lost their attention and the conversation is over with. Sometimes I find myself back peddling and sugar-coating the situation to spare any hurt feelings from suggesting the person is doing it wrong. After all, who wants to hear they are wrong when they thought they were getting it right? But what good does it do to sugarcoat a very serious problem? None at all. If anything, I’ve just given that person every reason to not recycle because, well, I basically told them there’s no point. Nevertheless, I continue onward even though the task at hand is great.
Getting people to write their representatives about implementing greener solutions to everyday use is hard enough. Getting people to consider reducing their waste seems even harder. Surrendering is no longer an option though, and we need to keep having these conversations regardless of how uncomfortable it may be for some.
WHERE DID THE THREE R’s COME FROM?
Finding out exactly who came up with Reduce, Reuse, Recycle or when it was introduced has proven to be a bit difficult to pinpoint, but I am pretty sure it was created in 1970 by University of Southern California student Gary Anderson as part of a contest tied to the very first Earth Day. We have known about our waste problem for almost 50 years and we have literally done nothing about it. If anything, we’ve made it worse. Thanks, single-use plastic inventors of the 1950’s and neoliberalism of the 1980’s!
WHY DON’T WE IMPLEMENT THEM?
I am not an expert. However, I am a thinker and have my own idea of why we don’t attempt to implement those first two ‘R’s. For one, we aren’t taught to. As long as I can remember it has always been recycle, recycle, recycle. Kids aren’t taught conservation or the importance of protecting the planet in school and since parents weren’t taught that either, it has just gotten lost in the shuffle of our everyday, overworked, stressed out, busy lives. Since it was never implemented in the previous generation, it doesn’t get handed down.
There’s never any time!
Waste reduction is literally a lifestyle change, and who has the time or patience for that? I know people with dishwashers who still insist on disposable plates and cutlery. We have been fed the idea that we are too busy to even place a plate and fork into the machine that washes the dishes for us. Holy crap we are screwed.
consumerism is the American way and convenience is king
Consumerism in the United States is a part of our culture. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and messages reminding us we have no time. So when you see something marketed as “convenient”, who wouldn’t reach for that product instead of making it yourself? You can buy anything you need ready to go to get you through your day. We can now order our groceries online and have them delivered to us, a service that is great for someone physically unable to shop for themselves, but overwhelmingly used by able-bodied people who don’t have time or simply don’t want to shop for themselves.
In America, convenience is king and the cheaper the better, especially when it comes to “things”. That IKEA dresser you bought broke? No problem. It doesn’t cost much so we’ll just throw it away and get a new one. Gone are the days of spending money on quality items to keep for most of your life and simply fix when it breaks. Or the gadgets! Oh those gadgets. You can buy a breakfast sandwich maker instead of frying an egg while your English muffin toasts because who has 5 minutes for that? I guarantee that sandwich maker will take longer. Not to mention the space it takes up. But you run out of room and so you just buy a bigger house so you can buy more things to use once and toss away.
It’s a vicious cycle and oh so American. There’s not enough time to fry an egg and toast a muffin. That’s because we are overworked. In the 1930’s, an economist by the name of John Maynard Keynes predicted his grandchildren would be working 15 hour work weeks. With all the advancements in technology, we should be working less. Unfortunately, that is very un-American. We are kept busy, stressed, and poor and left with no time to really think about how life could be if we demanded better. But that’s for another article. I bring this up because it all goes back to why we can’t take the time to do things the “less convenient” way and significantly reduce our waste which we are in such dire need of doing.
OUT OF SIGHT OUT OF MIND
We’ve all seen the photos of trash washed up on the banks of a river in India, or the great garbage patch some people think doesn’t actually exist. But there is a disconnect for many people when it comes to seeing something in a photograph rather than in person. I was on my way home from the grocery store where I suffered a silent anxiety attack watching the amount of plastic bags being used for the woman in front of me. On my way home I looked around me and noticed how clean the busy street and lawns were. Not a piece of garbage in sight! No wonder people don’t realize the garbage issue. We are so good at hiding it. Realistically we are just really good at shipping our trash overseas and leaving that mess for China until earlier this year when they started refusing our waste. So now that Chine won’t take our recyclables of our hands, they will most likely just end up in a landfill. Is that enough to get you to reconsider your waste? I will assume not.
IT IS BECOMING LESS OF A VIABLE SOLUTION
Recycling received a slow start in the 70’s with bottle returns. By the 90’s, many municipalities began offering curb-side pick-up, but even in the new millennium, a good portion of America is still expected to take their own recycling to the nearest recycling center. I know for a fact, people in these areas were not taking the initiative to transport their recyclables to these centers, although some were.
Aiding in our own recycling programs was the shipping of our waste to China to be recycled into items such as new plastic products. Unfortunately, China realized this was no longer profitable and began refusing our crap.
Another issue with American recycling is that we don’t do it right. Did you know you can’t recycle a greasy pizza box? That’s because the paper is contaminated. Lids, straws, cutlery, are not recyclable yet I know people think they are. And if you have a plastic container that is recyclable, you need to clean it out. Otherwise, it will contaminate the rest of the items and those are no longer recyclable. You can read more about how to properly recycle here.
With China no longer accepting our trash, and the fact that we don’t really know how to properly recycle, most of our recyclables are ending up in the trash anyway. We simply consume way too much.
SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE
I would never shame someone for not “getting” the importance of reducing waste. I can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do, and at a time when we are very self-centered (to be clear I understand there is a reason for that and it has to do with our programming) making someone feel bad for their everyday decisions is just a bad idea. The last thing we need is more people rebelling and deliberately doing unsustainable things just to stick it to the environmentalists. The people who see the problems and want change need allies — more like an army.
There are ways to suggest certain lifestyle changes. Show off your new reusable produce bags and check out shops such as Life Without Plastic. Give a public shout out to the new Kleen Kanteen you bought for water refills. Complement your local coffee shop who was wiling to fill your own to-go cup instead of just taking the throw away cup they normally give. Find an awesome outfit at the thrift store and shamelessly show that off. And definitely make an effort to food prep for the work week. There are a ton of recipes online for quick, easy, and healthy meals. It will become routine.
I only mention a few ways someone can reduce their waste. What we really need to be doing is vote with our wallets, vote for the candidates who have shown a genuine concern for the environment and social well-being of all Americans, and be annoyingly diligent at writing your representatives! Join Facebook groups to stay up to date on certain actions you can perform. There are groups out there who organize and take it to their state capitol. That is what needs to happen. We need global mobilization of citizens around the world demanding change. There is over 7 BILLION of us. The amount of major polluters pale in comparison. We have to stop letting these companies get away with poisoning us and our planet and we need to hold our governments accountable when it comes to certain policy. Pay attention to what is going on at the city and state level and push those in charge to do right by the people.
I implore people to reduce their waste however best they can, but let’s not forget it shouldn’t be up to us to clean up the mess our governments have allowed. It’s time we demand better by the people we pay with our own hard-earned money.
I am aware of the many issues facing the planet. Over population, climate change, depletion of natural resources, endangered species, etc. Can I wave a magic wizard wand and make it better? No, I cannot. And sorry to say but praying aint gonna do it either. We need to act. So how do you get the government to put their foot down on these gigantic polluters and say, “No more. You’re done.” It seems damn near impossible. This is where I think change from the bottom on up comes into play. A wise man mentioned change happens from the bottom on up but his name conveniently slips my mind. Ok, so what kind of change? Well, why not start with consumerism? We all need to reduce our waste and you can do that by reducing your consumption. After all, it is reduce, reuse, THEN (when all else fails) recycle. We just sort of skip those first two and go straight to that third and least helpful step. And what seems to have many environmental enthusiasts freaking out about? Plastics. That sounds like a great place to start, or so I thought.
DON’T GET DISTRACTED WITH THE BIGGER FIGHT
I was feeling confident in my push to educate others and try to convince them to reconsider their plastic consumption. My husband and I have already been making an effort and it is much easier than one might think. I could tell people were becoming annoyed with my social media posts, however, which I found disheartening. If I couldn’t get those closest to me to reconsider their choices, especially after sharing my fears I have for my child, how was I going to convince an entire country? Nevertheless, I persisted. Then one day I saw “the tweet”.
“not to say plastic pollution isn’t a problem, rather there are much bigger problems facing the world we live in – specifically climate change.”
“Um. What?” I thought. Isn’t this part of the climate crisis? I mean we do know where plastics come from right? How would plastic production and manufacturing not play a role? And to have all those items just sitting there for all eternity. How is this not a problem? To help explain why this is so concerning to me, let’s consider how plastics are made. I am going to focus strictly on the biggest culprits and easiest to ditch such as cutlery, bags, to-go containers, straws, packaging for food and toiletries, etc, since they are responsible for 30% of plastic production. The plastic used for these particular items is mainly derived from polypropylene which begins as fossil fuel, the same fossil fuel your car runs on, and is then distilled and mixed with catalysts to eventually form plastic pellets. These pellets are then shipped to various manufacturers to make all kinds of wonderfully, non-biodegradable items that will be with us forever. For a more scientific explanation, check out this pdf.
FOSSIL FUELS. NOT JUST FOR YOUR AUTOMOBILE
When we consider the ways fossil fuels are extracted — drilling and mining — then transporting them and manufacturing them, one can see how dirty, damaging, and wasteful plastics are. You’re drinking water out of a vessel made from the same material your car runs on. This is the same material that helps poison your water, making you rely on water sold in a vessel made from that material that poisoned your water in the first place. It’s a horrible cycle beginning with an incredibly dirty process. Take fracking for instance, which requires an absurd amount of water and chemicals. One well takes 3 to 6 million gallons of water per well, and an additional 15,000-60,000 gallons of chemicals to extract the material. Much of the chemicals used in fracking are unregulated so the exact amount or type of chemical used is a mystery. That should piss you off. Of the known chemicals, 25% were found to be cancerous. Again, Why aren’t you pushing for change? Why are we accepting this?
It appears climate activists (not all) feel you need to push hard for clean energy now, no excuses, and forget the plastic problem. But you aren’t going to make that happen. There is still much to consider and unfortunately, politicians know that could hurt their careers if they push too hard to change industries which not only contribute to their campaigns, but also employ American citizens who could be left without jobs if a proper transition is not implemented. Why are democrats so afraid to even touch climate change? Sure they might mention it to look good, but has any one other than Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez really pushed for true change with an actual plan? Even still you have a population of Americans working for these industries who don’t feel confident they will have job training waiting for them once their coal mine is shut down. I really hope some of these politicians go speak with some of these folks. The coal miners in Kentucky, for instance, have been blocking coal from being delivered until they get their back pay. Those guys are interested in a transition to cleaner energy but they aren’t sure it will actually happen. I sympathize with people in these positions because it is their livelihood and they don’t know what else to do.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
I don’t have all the answers and would never claim to. What I do have though, is the power of observation and a mind that won’t shut off. I see people talking about the climate crisis, but no one really doing anything. As someone who lives in the Metro Detroit area, I can tell you I don’t expect anyone in my life to ditch their cars anytime soon, or choose a job closer to home, or install solar panels on their over-sized house. What I can see is someone thinking twice about the products they purchase if they know how detrimental plastics are to the planet. I can see someone realizing recycling is becoming less helpful and is no longer a reason to feel good about your consumption, that reducing first is the more beneficial action. You can’t force people into major change. Unfortunately, you need to ease them in. Start from the bottom and work your way up. Educate. Enlighten. We may be running out of time, but we are too focused on what the Real Housewives are up to to care. Or we are convinced we are too busy or just can’t be burdened with all this devastating news while we are preoccupied with keeping up with Joneses. How do you get the government to act when the majority of their constituents don’t care? I’m sorry but I think it’s baby steps. So yes, push for major change, but offer everyday solutions to a much bigger problem. We need major energy overhaul in this world but until we get that, let’s focus on the things we can change right now.
By the way, after reading about the water wasted on fracking fuel for your disposable partyware, I don’t want hear anything about the water used to launder my infants bamboo reusable diapers.