Sometimes it seems that an ecological argument has been won. Recycling is one such example because so many of us do it on automatic pilot. At the same time, alternative waste disposal techniques like fly tipping are frowned upon by the majority of the population. Nevertheless, an environmental scientist called Ono Mergen has written about the limitations of recycling in relation to plastic waste. Perhaps it is worthwhile to go over the argument in question.
In essence, Mergen believes that recycling brings responsibility for plastic consumption down to the level of the individual. She is clear that manufacturers must be held accountable for their products and she would like a circular economy to emerge. Mergen wrote:
“Recycling is good but the truth is, banning, reducing, and redesigning has way more impact.”
For Mergen, “recycling is the least effective” approach to take with plastic. This is a comparison between recycling and other positive activities. She does not measure the theory and practice of recycling against less responsible behaviour like leaving litter. At the moment, Surfers Against Sewage is trying to lead an environmental battle against carelessly handled plastic. The envisaged clean-up of plastic waste is meant to improve the wellbeing of participants.
It is often the case that controversy increases the level of interest in an article. However, Mergen does make some valid points in her piece. Nonetheless, less recycling can feed into more littering. Recycling is quite easy to carry out and it is better than leaving plastic on a beach. It is no silver bullet for the global environmental crisis but it is easy for most individuals to implement.
At certain points in the article, Mergen is not entirely negative about recycling. This leads me to think that any controversy over recycling is restricted in its scope. Defenders of recycling will not deny that plastic is a problem that should be dealt with on a variety of fronts.
Plastic production is a major contributor to the dilemmas of the Anthropocene. The truth is that excess plastic is devastating in its environmental impact. Recycling is not a long-term panacea to the crisis, but it is far superior to littering. Disagreements between environmentally concerned people do occur and it is important to see the strengths of the arguments deployed by those with different perspectives. Common ground can be found which may facilitate social learning.