Zero Waste: The Recycling Event Horizon

The terminology surrounding the phrase ‘nautical event horizon’ suggests that, at some point, a seafaring peoples reached a point whereby the next action taken may or may not be their last. Imagine if you will, the peoples conquering the land mass known as Oceania. Each new island visited and sometimes settled was done so with the confidence of sight. They could see the next landmass and could determine the risk involved in getting to that destination. Near Oceanian islands could be easily seen and settling them resembled a game of nautical hopscotch. However, Remote Oceania represented over 200 miles of uncharted water with no landmass on the horizon to guide them. In other words, 40,000 years ago, some intrepid explorer left for points unknown.

This is where we are with many of our efforts at recycling. We seem to be standing on the near side shoreline, having conquered everything we know, having discovered what we need to know to survive and ultimately understanding what we need to do to thrive. In terms of creating the next big step in our zero waste journey, someone, somewhere must be brave enough to take that journey into uncharted areas, covering an unknown distance on a recyclable event horizon.

Who will do it?

That person(s) exists. That person(s) is focused on the answer, the technology currently available and is looking for a sponsor, a partner willing to take the risk. That person(s) however knows that what lays ahead is more than a leap of faith. That person(s) know that it requires a decision made by someone of higher responsibility than s/he has, someone with more power, someone willing to untangle the capitalistic model that provides the money to exploit the earth (mostly due to the unintended consequence of trusting the intentions of certain parties) and refocus it on engaging an actual solution.

That person(s) exists. Somewhere out there. However, that person is not in government. They are not leading our companies. That person(s) has no power. I have extensively researched the path this person(s) might take in order to affect change, right (or rewriting) the decades long decline. That person(s) is frustrated, and if they feel like I do at this point, at a loss.

I have always prided myself as an effectual leader, clearly outlining the visions I have created and enabling the answers to fall neatly behind the questions. “There must be a way” was often heard by my colleagues. Not suggesting that any change would be easy. A “way” is simply a methodology of surgically eliminating the paths that do not work and dipping a toe into an unknown ocean. Every problem with recycling, recovering materials that could be reused, is based on the same issue. Brilliant minds have created some many viable solutions. I am confident that there is a way.

So what is missing? I don’t need to tell any of you that this issue could be resolved¬†simply. There is a resolution and it is easy. The difficulty, as I have mentioned in these posts repeatedly, is leadership. Leadership needs an incentive to change what they can. Will they see the horizon or the nearest opportunity?

As Fredric Jameson writes in “Future City”: “Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world.” I am not suggesting an end to this way of doing business. That would be foolhardy.

As a consultant, I am intrigued by the lack of interest in what is clearly not only a money saving venture, a cost-reduction enterprise and an environmentally positive initiative by the people of authority. There is money to be made. And not in the usual way. I have discarded the monetization of this effort in these discussions – because no one wants to pay for what they cannot hold, what they cannot adequately explain to shareholders and stakeholders. What is left are some well-intentioned sustainability documents.

For instance: The food industry has the ability to remove every scrape of food waste from the waste stream – but they won’t. Many of the methods they have “adopted” do more to contribute to the problem (carbon wasted transporting food waste to farms actually adds to the problem). The local municipalities have the ability to demand progress however they too are reluctant to do what might be considered overreach. “Not in my neighborhood” is understandable when it comes to composting facilities. And when better science is available that could eliminate that concern, the effort stalls on both bureaucratic and business levels. I mention this particular problem because this is by far, the easiest solved solution to a growing problem and one the dominates the sustainability documents published by this group.

For instance: Recycling plastic film/wrap is not easy. You would assume that with so much material and an upswell in public support to do so, removing every bit of it from the waste stream would be easy. However, in the presence of so many technologies designed to reduce/reuse/recycle this material, the roadblock to doing so is in the hands of the people who see no monetary value in the effort. And unfortunately, this effort is conspicuously absent for far-too-many sustainability documents.

We have reached the event horizon for recycling. And even if no one has the incentive to leap into the unknown – even if the unknown is actually known, I intend to do so. My next posts will reflect this effort and the frustrations I anticipate I will encounter.

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