On the importance of communication — a case study

“Gadzooks! Is bumbling Boris right about recycling?”[1]

No, he isn’t!

The article describes a press conference for kids held by the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“What are we going to do to make sure that people and business use less plastic?”

the PM said:

“Recycling isn’t the answer.

I’ve got to be honest with you; you’re not going to like this. It does not begin to address the problem.

You can only recycle plastic a couple of times, really. What you’ve got to do is to stop the production of plastic.”

Strong words for a PM, and we wonder whether he would have addressed a delegation of the British petroleum industry or the drinks' industry in quite the same way.

“only about 15% of our plastic waste is recycled in the UK.

A further 20% is shipped abroad, often to developing countries which don’t have the infrastructure to cope, so it ends up getting burnt, sent to landfill, or polluting the oceans, where it kills hundreds of thousands of sea-birds and animals.

The rest is incinerated or slung into landfill here at home.”

She also writes:

“I kept wondering whether all the meticulous rubbish-sorting actually benefited the planet, or was it more akin to a virtue-signalling religion — genuflecting before an approved moral cause, rather than making a real, practical difference.”,

and goes on to say that

“it seems clear that, at least when it comes to recycling plastics, our well-meaning efforts are nowhere near enough to address the climate crisis.

The monstrous scale of the pollution is too great.

Picture a lorry-load of plastics being dumped in the sea every minute of every day and you begin to get a sense of it.

I’m all for personal responsibility and individual action, but the ongoing plastic disaster won’t be averted unless global corporations — such as the drinks companies that churn out gazillions of single-use plastic bottles — change their dirty ways.”

Well, we agree, of course we do.

Of course, far too many plastic bottles are dumped into the terrestrial and aquatic environment, where they cause a multitude of problems.

Waste separation is an act of individuals.

Everybody can make sure that they put waste plastic bottles (or other products) into the waste plastic bin.

Recycling, on the other hand, is an industrial process.

Bales of crushed steel ready for transport to the smelter

So, is separating your household waste mere “genuflection before an approved moral cause, rather than making a real, practical difference”?

The waste sorting individual has done their bit. It would be making a real practical difference if politics did their bit and banned the export of waste.

Reducing the production of plastics is certainly important, even vital.

However, this will not change the demand for it.

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