Right after diner tonight, I asked one of my sons to go empty the kitchen recycle bin. He got 10 points on the board where we keep track of the family chores. He felt good about that.
Recycling as we know it today is an example of a powerful and dominant narrative. A great lesson in narrative design. But a dangerous one. Let’s take a look.
Like every other narrative, recycling is defined by a set of norms that become part of “the way we do things around here”, also known as our culture. It was designed to make us feel good about throwing stuff and to generated economic opportunities for manufacturers and companies willing to buy our junk.
Institutions constructed the recycling narrative through education, commercials, and even toys. Model dump trunks were my son’s favorites, and they were in his toy chest to teach him about recycling as soon as he was a toddler.
We all learned to believe that the blue bin saves the planet. It is automatic, even if it’s still a bit unclear to me where that “compostable” fork goes.
Finally, what seems to count most is that recycling makes us feel good. After we throw away something, it’s not our problem anymore. We somewhat help the person who will deal with that problem next, by sorting our wastes. So, that seems all right.
Now, let’s be honest, recycling is just a band-aid. It’s only here to fix the back-end of our addiction to consumption.
Teaching my kids to sort what they throw away used to make me feel good. It seemed like it’s what it meant to be a good parent.
Now, it does not make me feel good anymore. I feel shame when I see our overflowing recycle bin.
A new narrative must emerge to fix the issue in the front-end: fewer junk products, packages, and useless stuff. Period.
Therefore, the question is: are we ready to welcome that new narrative?
I am pleased to see some of our leaders take action. But I think it’s up to all of us to take responsibility and lead with a higher level of consciousness.
If you represent a manufacturer and you’re still only playing the recycling game, please wake up and do what’s right.
What really counts as “good” for the planet might not be to recycle anymore.