You may be surprised by what I am about to say, but here goes: humans are not good problem solvers. Now, if there were a film, this would be the point at which the brakes are slammed and the care screeches to a holt, but hear me out. The reason that humans are not good problem solvers is because we have become hardwired to ignore the fact that most of the problems we are trying to solve are often of our own making.
Let’s take recycling as an example, although - full disclosure here - I believe in recycling. I want recycling to happen. I want us to reuse as many of the plastic, paper, metal products we have put into the world. The problem is recycling has become a placebo cure in its own right. We have all these colourful containers into which we gleefully throw our sorted items, and off we go feeling content that we have done our bit for the planet.
However, the reality is recycling – like almost every other thing in society – is often profit driven and depends on the willingness of some countries to take this recycling and actually do something with it. What happens if this recycling is not being, well, recycled? Well, it gets thrown in a landfill, burnt, or in the case of Canada it gets put on a ship to China and just stays on those ships for several years.
The problem is that people now use recycling as their sort of get out of jail free card, ‘oh it doesn’t matter if I buy this coffee in this disposable cup, I’ll just recycle it after!’ WRONG! ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter if I buy all this stuff from Amazon, I’ll just be sure to recycle the packaging’ WRONG AGAIN!
Instead what we should be doing, is addressing the issue at the heart of all this, which is consumerism and how much we are actually adding to the problem. Recycling isn’t a magic wand, it doesn’t make anything disappear. We can’t keep burying our heads in the sand on this, because before we know it there won’t be any sand left to bury them in, it will just be piles of unused plastic piling up around us.
Michael Stewart-Evans, alumnus UNU-Merit