The ‘do-not-litter’ campaign in the US in the 1960s was widely successful in keeping our backyards tidy. Look a little deeper, though, and you realize that it merely moved trash from our backyards to somebody else’s.
The campaign was sponsored and run by the large companies who actually generated most of the trash in the first place. Through the campaign, they convinced us that managing litter was a public problem – not theirs. That is why, no matter how many tonnes of potato chip packets Pepsico produces, it is not responsible to take back this litter and process it. And most of this litter ends up in a dump somewhere else.
The campaign to recycle plastics was another such jujitsu move. This campaign was spear-headed by the oil companies that manufactured this plastic in the first place. By making us responsible for recycling plastic, they were let off the hook. Even today, most plastic is not commercially recyclable (even if they have that recycling logo). 90% of the plastic we have produced was never recycled and is still doing circulating in our biosphere.
And now, when we stare at a climate crisis, the powers that be inform us that we ought to do our part. Do you see a pattern here? Even if I, as an individual, were to live an entirely carbon neutral life for the next 70 years, I would only offset 1 second of what the rest of the world produces. How would it feel to have a life’s worth of carbon austerity ‘off-set’ in 1 second?
Plastic waste and climate change are crucial problems that our world is grappling with. Yet, the responsibility to act lies with the political and the industrial forces lie at the heart of these problems. As individuals, let us hold them accountable to action and stop having them distract us from doing our own life’s work.