Being environmentally responsible is a laudable thing. We should all be paying attention to this important issue.
You find out that the plastic bottle that you so carelessly toss out can easily end up in an oceanic gyre or convergence zone like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As the bottle breaks down over many years, it becomes tiny plastic particles that are ingested by tiny sea creatures. These creatures are eaten by larger creatures and whole food chains are threatened by your carelessness.
So you stop mindless tossing and start responsible recycling. That’s great! But, it’s not that simple.
Recycling and working to reduce our carbon footprint are activities that everyone who has any regard for the quality of life of their children and grandchildren must engage in. But, such responsibility it is complex and sometimes baffling.
In our household, recycling is a way of life. On trash day, our recycle bin far outweighs (literally) our garbage bin. We have a garden and compost large amounts of kitchen waste, shredded paper and cardboard. Throwing the aluminum cans and plastic bottles into the correct bin is an automatic habit that takes no thought.
But, it’s not that simple. We know that the ubiquitous batteries that power everything from flashlights to cell phones are not supposed to get into the landfills. But, what do we do with them?
And then there are the electronics. You feel good when you transport them to the proper recycling facility. But, you don’t feel so good when you find out that these items often end up in third world countries where children dismantle them for the reusable minerals and other useful materials (Source 2). Not only is there the issue of child labor, but in addition there is the issue of unsafe dismantling practices that threaten the health of these children.
Recycling and environmental responsibility are just not that simple. We live in a global village. And what happens in our town affects what happens in a village of India, China or Ghana.
Where does your garbage end up anyway? I used to think simplistically that it ended up in the landfill and that recyclables ended up being recycled, period. But it just isn’t that simple.
Recyclables are not recyclables are not recyclables. One thing goes to one place and another thing to another place.
In order to make us more aware of where our trash ends up, what route it takes to get there and how long it takes is the focus of the study being done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Source 1). This research project engages not only scientists but also volunteers who paste or sew “traces” onto specific items that they throw away or recycle. Then, with GPS technology, these items can be tracked to their destination. The scientists who are carrying out this experiment hope that the results will produce a public awareness that will be beneficial for the efforts to save our planet from being totally trashed.
I want to be responsible. I don’t want my children and grandchildren to blame me for the sorry state of the environment that they will be living in. But one thing that I’ve learned so far is that it just isn’t that simple.