Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Vox explains why we're recycling wrong — Student Sustainability Video Festival 82

I closed Devita Davison explains how urban agriculture is transforming Detroit — Student Sustainability Video Festival 81 by telling my readers "With luck, I'll return to regular blogging tomorrow.  If not, I have plenty of videos from my students' presentations to choose from."  I finished grading my students' final exams, computing their grades, and submitting them yesterday, but it took a lot out of me.  Since the update I promised of On The Issues shows most of the Democratic candidates have moved left during the campaign, too is a big project that I just started and won't finish today, I'm featuring another video that one of my students used as part of her presentation, Vox's Why you're recycling wrong, which is one I wanted to post here anyway.*  My student showing it and my need to recover just gave me the excuses I needed.

Knowing what you can and can’t recycle isn’t easy. But when you put stuff that can’t be recycled into that blue bin, it can turn entire hauls of otherwise recyclable materials into trash.
People try to recycle everything. Waste management workers routinely find bowling balls, batteries, Christmas lights, animal carcasses, even dirty diapers. In 2018, about 25% of items that Americans tried to recycle were actually non-recyclable trash, known as "contamination." The more contamination that enters recycling plants, the more likely a waste management company will simply send the entire haul, including items that could be recycled, to a landfill.

Watch the video above to learn more about why Americans’ recycling habits are trash, and how you can prevent recycling contamination.
I've been more careful about how and what I recycle since I watched the video, even more so after watching it in my student's presentation.  I hope my readers will be, too.

*I've already collected the data.  I just need to sort it, write the post, and create the memes.  The entry should be ready tomorrow.  Stay tuned.


  1. I get a firsthand look at that contaminated recycling dynamic, and it's sad. I live on the top floor of an apartment tower, and because space is limited up here, I have to take my recycling to the main trash room. (Other floors with more space have bins in trash rooms on their level.) So much random crap -- almost anything made of plastic gets chucked (even before China stopped taking Australia's plastics, too.) I could go on about the things I've seen, but you don't need to read a listicle. (Trashticle?) "Aspirational" is definitely the word. "Ignorance" would also work. I'm sure I've dropped a link in your comments to "The 5 Laws of Human Stupidity" so I won't do it again. But there are a lot of people who mean well, but they're oopid-stay.

    I can't say I'm perfect either. I have been picking up roadside litter for since the 1990s, due to my Greenie guilt. For decades, I'd toss mud-soiled plastic bottles in the shopping bags I used for recycling, thinking that it all gets shredded and water-washed. Not so, I found only AFTER China started knocking back Aussie plastic in 2018. It's gotta be clean to have even half a chance. I wonder how much my well-meaning but ill-advised activity ruined other stuff that COULD have been recycled?

    These days on the bike path that I pick over (by a creek mouth, under a major highway bridge over the main river that flows through here) I don't even bring the aluminium cans in for recycling. I stick 'em on tree branches, and ram the plastic bottles through chain link fences, wedge glass bottles upside down in fence holes...It looks like a madman's trash-art project through there. Which I suppose it is. Most of what I pick up is lightweight windblown trash from the bridge, the rail yards nearby or a major truck route that passes there. Weaving streamers of police caution tape through the fence links gives that stretch of bike path a festive air. Same with when I hoist upon those fences the shopping trolleys ("carts"in American terminology) that the homeless people abandon. And when I put police tape on those so it blows in the breeze, it's like I'm the Gaudi of garbage!

    1. No, I don't recall you ever having cited or linked to the Five Laws of Human Stupidity. I searched for them and found The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by Carlo M. Cipolla, which defines stupidity from an economic perspective. I found them very informative and darkly amusing. Are those the right laws?

      As for being "the Gaudi of garbage," LOL, there are worse aspirations!

  2. That's the guy! Of the several web pages that illustrate the laws, I prefer this one, because the line drawings that go with it remind me of R. Crumb and Zap! Comix. You being about the same age as me, and probably a bit of a reprobate, you're familiar with Zap!, right? Twigging to subversive underground comics when I was a wayward teen helped shape my anti-establishment look on life.

    The Laws of Stupidity purport to be scientific, but they're mostly splenetic, with no stats or research to support them. Not that that means they're wrong! I lump them in the same category as The Peter Principle and Parkinson's Law. Did you read either of those books? In the 1970s and 80s, people knew what they were, but when I quote them now (especially Parkinson's) I get blank looks. In spite of the profusion of easily accessible knowledge on the Internet, it's sad what has been LOST in the collective imagination.

    I only stumbled across Cipolla's "laws" in the past year or so. Essays like that make me wonder what other gems of wisdom have been floating around out there (he penned that in the 70s?) of which I am unaware.

    Now that I have absorbed Carlo's cynicism into my worldview, I analyse people on a stupidity spectrum. There are many people I work with (including doctors) who are book-smart, often highly intelligent in their narrow fields. At the same time, I have to rate them as stupid per the Cipollina definition of "causing losses to people." Such as psychiatrists who are super-sharp about neurotransmitters, but who just can't "read" patients (i.e. their quirks, behaviours, the things that set them off...) Or nurses who are skilled at obeying ward rules, but have pedantic ways of interacting with patients which make the patients arc up. Stuff like that causes a form of "loss" to the patients if they get agitated, need sedation or seclusion (getting locked in the isolation room until they settle down.) Losses can take many forms.

    I'm fond of citing Cipolla to people I know, especially the bits about how there are more stupid people than you might think, and there is no way to out-think stupid people, because they will do something so stupid that you couldn't even have imagined that. Double-plus true dat with the patients, but they can't help it, because they're ill. Still, keeping Cipolla in mind makes me less surprised when they do the things they do...

    1. I was familiar with R. Crumb but didn't know his best known creations appeared in Zap Comix (I was a fan of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers instead), so thank you for steering me that way. I read The Peter Principle along with Up The Organization and other contrarian self-help books about business during my early 20s. I recall giving one of them to my first serious girlfriend, who was a business major at the time. Her response was to tell me she didn't want to be in business if those books were true. Last I heard, she was an English teacher.

      I have been teaching pre-meds and nursing students off and on for 30 years now and I can blame the selection process, especially for doctors. It promotes students who are book-smart and hard workers, but it does nothing to promote bedside manner. It just makes sure the future doctors know enough not to kill their patients from ignorance.

      Nursing is better, but I think that's a matter of the culture of nursing as much as the formal education. You, as a nurse, would know if I'm right, but it's something I picked up from being married to a nurse for a decade.

      I recall a joke about being unable to idiot-proof anything, because someone can always become a better idiot.