Recycling an ethical issue?


Recycling is starting to cost more than it earns…creating a business case crisis for the recycling industry especially processing plants as the value of recyclables go down because of various factors, oil prices amongst others. 

I just read about this in an article Earth 911, The Other Side of Recycling and been in conversations about the increase in incineration of plastics. I had a chat with another lady the other day about the over full general waste bin. She mentioned that it is like yeah – that is done now, like it is yesterday’s news.. recycling. People aren’t doing it anymore. Like it was a “Project” that has now ended. So weird – but so true – awareness – does it lead to change? Do we have the support in place to facilitate actions from a changed mindset? Does our world reflect these high aspirations? 

I think this is very much a place where the whole “climate movement” is finding itself now, we were very much about awareness – and that is the easy part. Now about implementing and actually changing systems, and putting processes in place… well this is where the real work begins, but of course this can’t happen if we don’t have a lot of affected climate champions behind it. 

Recycling for small businesses in Bristol also provide a little hurdle for following a path of least resistance.  Basically you have to pay for each bin you need to be emptied. So if you recycle you pay for at least double or up to 4 times what you would pay for a general waste bin collection. So where is the incentive? Most people I know take the recyclables back with them to their houses, but that only covers a small amount of waste produced. What do we do?

Immediately LitterARTI style.. yeah ! Lets do some art. lets show people what gets wasted, and then work out the value of the materials and visually inspire the change. But I feel a little dismayed at this approach, who am I doing the art for? the Council? The small businesses who already feel bad for doing it? To fire up a bunch of people to feel powerless and aware of being stuck in a system. I am also part of this small business group and it really is tricky to get around this. However if this was the only option – could they not level the cost of it across businesses and then it does not have to tap my ethical energy? I can just get on with things.  Same to be said about packaging, How long do we need to tap ethical energy around our bins, because policies and systems are stopping us from doing the right thing?

But that I guess can be said about so much old system thinking which we are living in and trying to recover from. Trying to reclaim conscious responsibility. Trying to grow up dammit! Perhaps these are exactly the things which will score us our browny points before reincarnating back again to deal with the same things. I once had an idea that perhaps the whole of life existence have always had us in little groups or families of souls protecting the earth – so if I’m concerned with “waste” now as an artist / community builder / solution finder, I most definitely was a little dung beetle in a previous life, so perhaps I can look forward to being one of those amazing meal worms who eat polystyrene and poo out compost in my next life!

Last night I heard on the news the big reform in jails by Mister Cameron, and these ideas are very radical! Cool man. But as so clearly stated, you need to manage the system so as to support people with supportive communities before they end up in jail and then if they ended up in jail – when they have to reintegrate with life…as to not end up back in jail. Are the jails really the problems? They provide safety, homes and security and community to many of its residents and life outside is a pretty scary place where you are the outcast. I spoke to a guy, an ex-convict recently when he told me about his frustrations in getting support to do his CV. So what do you want me to write on my CV? I was in rehabilitation since I was a child – been in this institution then there and then in jail.  This support – which ticked a box, it is great, was obviously missing the mark dramatically. As for the reform, I absolutely agree this is the place where this employability issue can be tackled – however the support need to extend beyond the metal bars. Life is a pretty tough place for everyone and without support it can be ruthless. 

So back on Recycling, I know this is a long shot.  But. If we look at the materials before they turn into waste… and ensure they are created with the intention to be re – processed, re-produced after their initial function .ie packaging has expired. So even before the lifecycle even begins you already have ingrained in its DNA the highest potential in its material – the vision or blueprint of what it could become?

Great Read here as well on ethical, circular design practices and inspiring visionary thinking beyond plastics by Lynne Elvins from Design Rally. 

Also look at

Cradle to cradle marketplace – providing certification for Cradle to cradle product design.

Julie’s Bicycle – looking and supporting sustainability in the arts sector.

also a fantastic Cradle to Cradle design challenge competition.


Activate your inner Activist: Microbeads…


I invite you when you next venture into a Boots: go and look at the scrubs of most of the beauty houses and look at the list of ingredients you will find:

Polyethylene = Plain plastic

Yes the same plastic bag you now get charged for at the check out – halleluja! Also the most basic building block of the whole plastic family.

Microbeads… yes. You can but only laugh or cry about this… the craze idea of first scrubbing your face with plastic particles… then flushing these down the drain.

Here is a fantastic video created by the Story of Stuff explaining the microbead:

Where do all these things go?? Mixing with other poisons it ends up in fish, molluscs, ending ultimately in the stomachs of larger fish and birds and our own stomachs? The scary question is indeed where does the plastic disappear to. Research is just beginning to look at the effect of the poisonous chemicals released through the break down of plastics and the effect this has on our health. 

What really gets me is the short sightedness in the lack of consideration of the end life of products, the lack of clear information, or misleading marketing jargon on packaging about the products and the lack of directed legislation to enforce these processes.

Lots of work needed to be done for circular cradle to cradle design processes to be adopted. Brands to take full responsibility for their product from conception, through design to final consumer use  – including disposal. At the moment these are all voluntary, and is limited by time and cost constraints allowing for proper research and processes. A revolution in design is necessary, but at the moment it comes down to ethics in the industry… especially in question after the findings in a recent article in the Sustainable Business Guardian about business leaders who are still in denial about climate change.

This is the response from the government regards to the petition to put more pressure on the industry to phase out the use of microbeads.

Basically they are putting an action plan together to work with industry on the voluntary removal of the plastic in facial products and they are doing more research.

This is already banned in the US which will come into action beginning of 2017. So should they need to do their own research, if this is already proven to be hazardous elsewhere? Looks like the industry is looking to buy more time… 

To conclude I would like to say a few things about our power as consumers: 

  • We need to familiarise ourselves more with plastic as a material, to understand its advantages and   where it is really useful – but also know when to refuse it – when it is for single use and absolutely detrimental to the environment ie. mixed polyethylene aka the single use take away fork.
  • Join in petitions to put pressure on industry, yes you are just signing something, but these do work. 
  • Refuse products and services which we do not agree with, and be vocal about it. Go on.. talk to the shop manager or drop an email or a tweet. If it is about ethics.. it is going to take individuals to feel this stuff with us – who will ultimately be closer to decision makers to facilitate change.
  • If you complain about a product, and take your business elsewhere, it is putting financial pressure on businesses to change their ways. 
  • I like the “Activist Revolution for 2016” idea. Find your passion and start making noise about it. Climate change does indeed provide an opportunity for us all to be great. To make a difference. It is a fantastic opportunity to step out of the status quo, question and redesign things. There is such a joy in not having to do something – but wanting to do it.
  • Why wait? Be part of the solution!
  • Note: Good products out there are: St Ives product containing 100% natural exfoliators, also take a look at making your own in this extensive list of products on DIYNatural blog.
  • Of course if you would like to be guaranteed of an ethical and natural product, Lush is just simply fantastic. A wonderful example of a company that just does everything splendidly, such an example to other industry leaders.
Tweet about products to the industry...

Tweet about products to the industry…

See more work done on this subject by:

5 Gyres

City to Sea

Being PALL – Plastic A Lot Less

Green Livvy

Story of Stuff Project

Plastic Oceans

Plastic Oceans Project