It’s not even Earth Day day yet, and we already have a problem. You may not believe this, but China is refusing our refuse. They’re not going to put up with our garbage anymore, and it’s causing a lot of problems. They used to love our garbage. We would buy a crappy plastic thing that said “Made in China” on it, and we’d use it for a while, and eventually it would break, or we’d get sick of it. Should we give it to somebody else? Nah, giving a crappy plastic thing to somebody else just makes us look cheap. Even the needy didn’t need it. So, we’d just throw it into the recycling bin, and a few months later it would arrive in China in a bag that said “Made in USA” on it, and they would melt it down and make that same crappy plastic thing out of it again, in a different color, and stamp “Made in China” back on it. I call it a “vicious recycle.”
I’m not just trash talking. China’s manufacturing boom of the last few decades was built upon the availability of cheap raw materials, otherwise known as America’s biggest export: garbage. Because we run a trade deficit relative to China, shipping companies that imported millions of tons of their products to American shores had plenty of room on the way back. And they filled every empty space with plastic, much like the Kardashians did. And now China has too much plastic and they don’t want ours, so recycling managers are down in the dumps these days. Crap is piling up everywhere, and it’s beginning to look like my office. I read that Great Britain generates enough plastic waste each year to fill 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Which gives me a great idea to get rid of it, as long as they don’t need to send any swimmers to the Olympics.
I’m guessing that much of this plastic is only used to wrap something else, so it starts out as waste and doesn’t really have any lofty ambitions to be anything else. And I’m further guessing that some of the material in that category is plastic that still contains something that I ordered from Amazon but couldn’t open. I looked all over for a little tab on it somewhere that says, “OPEN HERE,” or a perforation or even a picture of a little pair of scissors that says “YOU deal with it.” Even with a pair of scissors I end up cutting myself three times, once with each scissor in the pair and once with the plastic itself, which turns out to be sharper than I thought when cut with a pair of scissors. There is nothing that would allow me to gain entry to this product. So, who could blame me if I just lob the whole thing into the recycling bin in despair?
We’re now trying to find other countries to take our garbage, because one country’s treasure is another country’s trash. So far nobody wants our treasure. Should we put an ad on Craigslist? “Free to a good home: 400,000 tons of plastic containers, about 250,000 tons of which is uneaten Chinese food.” Should we send it into space? If we wait around long enough we’ll eventually be running a trade deficit with Uranus, and we can send it there for cheap. What we don’t want it to do is end up in the ocean. Microplastics have been found in seagulls and whales, which means that it is finding its way back into our food supply, and that’s why I don’t eat whales and seagulls anymore.
China will take some of our plastic, but it has to be exactly the kind they need, so we are inventing robots to sort our recycling. A robot can do it faster and more efficiently. Plus, a robot doesn’t say, “Wow, I can’t believe someone would throw THIS out!” And then stuff it in their pocket.
Another thing we need to do is simply generate less plastic. My wife tells me that they’re not using plastic bags at the supermarket anymore, so if I buy a dozen watermelons I have to take them each out to the car separately. But I’ll do it to save the planet, you can thank me later.
If YOU want to help do something for Earth Day, you can help by recycling your metal items, even your old recycling-sorting robots. On Saturday, April 20th, my friends Margaret and Judy, along with Mike from City Carting will be hosting their annual metal and electronic waste recycling drive at the Somers Intermediate School. I’ll be there to help, along with Gidget, the World’s Most Prettiest Dog. Bring us your scrap metal, your ancient electronics, your old appliances, yearning to be free, and a five-dollar bill that will also be recycled to help benefit important programs supported by the PTA Council.
In the meantime, let’s figure out what to do with all that waste, because the Earth is suffering. I was in a greenhouse recently and I feared for my life. There were plants everywhere, giving off those greenhouse gases. I had a teacher in Middle School once who told me point blank that he wasn’t going to take any more of my garbage. I could certainly understand that, but that did not prevent me from producing more garbage.
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