We were taught not to dirty the environment. However, as we proceeded to grow and progress, we gradually slipped from our original promises to our surroundings. Losing our environmental responsibilities has extended our shortcoming to the point that we are no longer in the prevention phase of our cleaning obligations. In this discussion, Bill Stierle and Tom share their viewpoints about preserving the environment and recycling our trash. Many environmental rules have been implemented to lessen our “trashy” crisis, from unique bins to taxing violators. This is never an individual oath, and we need to learn the current situation. Join the discussion and understand all of the aspects we could improve the environment and save what is left for our generation.
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The Truth About Our Social Responsibility for the Environment
Bill, it’s an interesting topic we decided to cover having to do with truth, accountability and social responsibility around our environment and in particular recyclable plastics.
Tom, the show that we are bouncing off of is the John Oliver show of saying how important it is to gain awareness about what’s happening in the plastic industry. It was something that lit a fire for both of us.
I’ve been paying attention to stories for a long time about how in many communities around the United States, even when we put those recyclable single-use plastic bottles in our municipal recycle bin, we have this belief that either our city or the company that is hired by the city to recycle those plastics is recycling them. Unfortunately, all too often, it seems to not be the case.
Human beings do a great job of telling ourselves a story that we can feel good about it. We don’t want to tell a story that we don’t want to feel good about ourselves about telling it. The phrase that caught me during the show was wish-cycling, “I wish that this thing could be recycled but it can’t be.” John Oliver poked fun at the umbrella. It’s not going to be recycled. If you put it in the recycle bucket, it’s not helping. “I feel good about putting it in the recycle bucket. It’s my contribution. I’m accountable for it.” You and I have said many times on this show that this is a communication show, what need does that promote?
Anything that’s in alignment with the need for self-worth or that I am being collaborative or the need for cooperation that I’m doing my part can hook us into a bias or a belief that we’re doing something good. Meanwhile, we’re not second questioning and checking our own thinking bias as we’re going through stuff. This is where it gets unsettling. People can get trapped in their own belief that they’re doing something but they’re being hijacked a little bit because of whatever the belief bias is that somebody else has put in front of them.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s sad when we peel back the curtain on recycling. I’m a Gen X. I was grown up in this time where we’re all educated about recycling. “We should recycle.” Whether at the time it was newspapers. That was a big issue in the town that I was growing up in. A lot of papers certainly do get recycled. I’ve seen that. As municipal recycling services didn’t exist everywhere, they started to come out with the blue bin or the different colors in different areas. You experience things in your community. You do end up with this belief that we’re recycling things. There are all these numbers on them putting anywhere from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. What did John Oliver say that only 2 of the 7 numbers get recycled? It is unsettling.Anything that's in alignment with the need for self-worth can hook us into a bias or a belief that we're doing something good. Click To Tweet
I’ve seen stories even earlier on in the pandemic as the economy was taking a hit. There were stories about how China who used to buy a lot of the plastics that are recycled from municipal waste bins in the United States stopped buying them because they didn’t have a use for them anymore. The thing is it wasn’t even then when it was being purchased. It wasn’t all being recycled. A lot of times it was being burned to generate electricity, which certainly is not recycling and that has an environmental impact of a different kind. This is a tricky problem. I don’t know if you’ve experienced it, Bill. If you’ve ever gone and spent any time up in the Seattle, Washington area, the communities around Seattle, Washington, even in the suburbs and all that or outside of it are militant when it comes to their trash, their recycling and their compost.
I’ve never seen municipal waste organizations the way they’ve done it there, where residents get fined if they don’t put things that are compost-appropriate into a compost bin and that gets collected and if they don’t put certain recyclables into that bin. My sister and brother-in-law live there for a few years. When I went and visited, I’m like, “This is seriously advanced household refuse rules that you had to comply with or you get fined.” There are some communities doing a better job of this. Some states are doing a better job than others but clearly, John Oliver shined a light on what is an all too common problem in the United States.
The thing I feel unsettled about as the show is trying to take a look at how we do mentally maintain accountability for our actions, as well as the truths that we tell ourselves that isn’t truth. A lot of times I’ll get asked the question and I go, “That person lied.” They go, “What need did they get met by maintaining or saying that lie?” A lot of times it is things like self-worth, certainty or trust in the belief that they’ve invested in, even though it’s not true. It’s almost like, “I don’t want to do the work to change this belief. I don’t want to do the mental work that I need to do to be honest or more in that this thought I had that I put into my noggin is not a valuable thought as a human being that thinks critically and looks through things.”
The truth is that human beings can be sold things that fit their bias easier than they can be sold the truth. I feel so unsettled to say that because it’s easier to message to somebody’s bias and get them to have an agreement with you and get them to vote your way because you’re feeding them the bias. It’s unsettling to know that we’re that frail of a creature that can be easily taken down a street because we’re not paying attention to the real facts or the person that’s handing us the bias. I want to believe that my recycling is doing a good thing after the show and taking the medicine that only 2% of my action is making a difference. I feel extremely disheartened. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to stop but it still is a part of that being disheartened.
Hopefully, it makes a lot of us so concerned. Certainly, there are times when a single-use plastic container is necessary. When I’m traveling, when you’re out, you’re going through airport security or you’re on a long road trip, it’s not always easy to bring your own reusable containers or have a place to refill for water to hydrate yourself. To use a single-use plastic bottle is common. Some municipalities have good recycle bins available even out in the public areas and some don’t. There’s nothing but trash. One thing I always try to do is even if I’ve got recyclable plastic and I don’t have a place to recycle it, I’ll look for a Starbucks. Starbucks has these waste bins by their exit door that has a compost side, the trash side and a truly recyclable side.
I know they’re going to do something appropriate with it, whether the service they give it to does something with it. We don’t know for sure but it’s not easy to do. At home, it’s so convenient to have one of these 40 packs of mountain spring water that you get at Costco but it makes more sense to find yourself a truly good source of healthy drinking water that you use glass and refill it every time. There are systems that do that but we have been sold it seems. Talk about communication. The beverage industry has done a good marketing job. Haven’t they?
They have sold us that recycling is something that they do and they do well. They pointed out Coca-Cola, “This is our plastic initiative.” We forget. “We thought that we had that handled.” “Sorry, empty promises.” We’re looking into your bias. We only spent this amount to do it but we weren’t doing anything about it. We don’t want to face the numbers. We don’t want to be accountable. We don’t want to have this social responsibility that we need. We are interested in what revenue that we can maintain in our coffers. We don’t want to clean up our mess and our capitalism or taking a ding because the more socially responsible people become, all of a sudden, we’re putting pressure on the marketplace to be socially responsible.
There are groups of people that are good at that. There are people that are going like, “We’re already doing the recycle thing. Look at all the bins. I’m driving down the street. I won’t look at the blue bins the same. I’ll still be taking an active part in recycling, but all of a sudden, it’s on my radar and I can’t unring the bell.” That’s the way we know that we can check in on our beliefs and biases. Once the bell is rung, then we become an advocate for that thing and gather information or take an action towards it, which is huge. We got to figure out how to make things better. Are we going to be a creature that pollutes its own environment until we’re neck high in it? Is that what we’re going to do?
That’s been a big concern of mine since the stay-at-home order started in March 2020 due to the pandemic. I could see that while there was one environmental benefit that was happening certainly noticeable here in Southern California where you and I live, Bill, is the air quality got a lot better because there were much fewer cars on the road. The smog was reduced. You could drive from 1.5 hours South of LA into LA. What normally would take a 1.5 to 2-hour drive on certain days you could get there in 45 minutes. That was a sign that fewer people are on the road. The air was clear. You could see the mountains without the yellow smog. That was great.
I also recognized, “Look at all the personal protective equipment being used and going up in large volumes at hospitals. That’s all going to go to landfill because that’s what they do with a lot of it.” I see the same thing happening with home delivery of food in terms of grocery shopping. Every grocery store is delivering food at home. In our household, we’re like an Amazon family. We’re shopping with Prime and the Whole Foods thing that they bought. There are a couple of different services. I’ve been shocked that for a long time there was this movement across the country.135 companies are innovating their way and take action and using recycles. Accountability and social responsibility are taking place. Click To Tweet
I would say over the last years, I’ve been doing it at home but certainly in California in years to buy reusable bags and bring them into the grocery store and shop with them and then the pandemic happened. All of a sudden, I wasn’t allowed to bring my reusable bags into Trader Joe’s anymore because they were worried about contamination and people getting sick. They wouldn’t want to expose their workers. They said, “That’s okay. You’re not going to have to buy disposable bags. We’re going to pay for them during the pandemic.” I was like, “I have all these disposable bags that I have to deal with.”
It’s interesting in the beginning during the beta test of Amazon Fresh, which is what it was called in the beginning, delivery service. They would provide you all your delivery in all these reusable bags, Styrofoam inserts for cold things and disposable cold packs. They would pick them back up. All of that packaging, they would pick back up from you. This is going back a few years, Bill, but ever since the Whole Foods acquisition by Amazon and the change to Prime now. It’s no longer called Amazon Fresh. They went back to disposable materials. Decidedly recyclable materials like brown paper bags although some of their insulation materials for cold items are more disposable and less long-term usable. I’ve been putting them in my municipal recycle bin, hoping that they’re actually being recycled but I don’t know if they are. There’s no recycle number on them.
This is where the part of the show where they started talking about wish-cycling. That term wish-cycling, “I’ve caught myself putting in there. I’m not sure about I’m putting it in there because I wish that this was able to be recycled. The show caught me on my bias and my untrue belief.” Is John Oliver’s 2% true? The problem is it’s not 50%. The problem is there are only two.
It also depends on where you live and what’s happening in your area. I do think Seattle area, for one that I have experienced with and I’m sure there are others too, that one is doing a better job than most. I have one little story that’ll be a little more disheartening. We do have an example of something positive happening in this area that we want to share. First, in my part of Southern California, our trash, we have to contract privately with an approved company, which here is waste management for an hour. There are lots of different companies that do this throughout California. It’s generally not your city taxes here that pay for your trash as is the case. I know in a lot of other parts of the country, we pay a quarterly amount of money for our trash recycling and our green waste for our tree, leaves, grass clippings and all that good stuff.
A number of years ago, I used to do a lot of international travel with my business. I used to China for a few weeks at a time. Because I didn’t want my wife to have to deal with the trash so much when I’m gone, I always made sure to get rid of all the trash. Make sure it gets picked up the last possible pickup before I leave for the trip. Maybe she can get away without having to put the cans out on the street for a week or two. I missed the trash. This particular day, it passed my house before I had it all out. I was upset. The recycle truck comes by. There are two different trucks. Trash truck picked up trash. Recycle truck comes to pick up its colored bin.
I talked to the recycle. I say, “Is the trash guy round? Is he close enough? Do you have the ability to radio him? I’m going to be gone for a couple of weeks. I need my trash to be picked up.” He says, “That’s all right. I’ll take care of it for you.” These are the types of trucks that pick up the recycle bin. They lift it up. They turn it upside down on top of the truck and dump it. It’s a large, huge garbage cans size of the thing. He picks up the recycled trash and then he proceeds to grab the actual household trash, do the same thing and dump it in the same truck. That to me peeled back the curtain a bit. It’s like, “These guys aren’t caring so much about keeping their truck purely recyclables that they’re mixing it with trash.” I started to no longer have this belief that all of my stuff was getting recycled as the appearance of recycling by two different trucks handling the two different kinds of material. I would think if it was strictly a problem, he would have said, “Sorry, you missed it.” That’s very disheartening.
When we break our bias, when we shift our belief, when we get a perspective about something that was true and then not true or something that was not true and then true, it’s unsettling. We feel anxious, nervous, worried, scared, upset, irritated and angry because we want to be accountable. We want to be socially responsible. It meets a lot of our needs of ours but at the same time, it doesn’t. We’re looking for and search for a story that makes us feel better. We want to be on the good guy side. Even in the movies, we’re rooting for the good guys. It’s not saying, “The bad guy got shot this time.”
Bill, not all is lost. Interestingly, there are companies and people seeing the problem that exists and doing something to solve it. That’s not wish-cycling. In fact, to illustrate the problem in one state alone in New York in the latest data from 2016. This is a little also sobering, New York residents used more than 23 billion disposable food service items. Talk about the delivery food problem even pre-pandemic. The amount of disposable food service containers and trash generated was huge. It’s only gotten worse in modern times with the advent of Uber Eats, Postmates and all these delivery companies. With the pandemic, their use has gone way up.
A company was founded in 2019 in New York that helps to tackle New York City’s mountain or growing trash. It’s called DeliverZero. The company provides plastic reusable containers to participating restaurants. They’re attacking this from the source of the problem, not trying to get consumers to be motivated, to try to wish-cycle or do something to recycle voluntarily. When customers order from their favorite New York City restaurants via the DeliverZero app or website, their foods are delivered in these recycled plastic containers, which apparently also the material is BPA-free. It’s polypropylene or something like that.
The customers hold onto the containers after their meal and either return them to a delivery courier the next time they order from their app in one of these restaurants. If consumers want to get rid of it sooner when they’re out, they can drop it off at a DeliverZero participating restaurant. You have two choices there. There are over 135 restaurants in three of New York City’s five Boroughs that have joined the program. What they’ve done is made it so that the consumer is motivated to not only order from a restaurant again to keep the cycle going. If they don’t, they’re put on notice through the DeliverZero app that if after six weeks of their initial order, they haven’t placed another order and the materials have not come back that they’re going to be charged $3.25 per food storage box that they used plus tax.
DeliverZero is making money the same way any delivery service does on a commission on the food sale to the restaurant. That’s what Uber Eats, Postmates does and all these places. It’s the same model but they’re giving a reason for people to choose one over another that has a positive environmental impact. Apparently, they’ve grown tremendously and it’s going well. I saw the same Last Week Tonight program you did, Bill. It was disheartened at our beverage industry with all the soda companies, all the bottled water companies and everything else. It does seem that there are some companies that are innovating their way to being more responsible and do something about it.
The story makes me feel good. If there are 135 restaurants that take an action to use recycle, I feel good that the accountability is taking place, that social responsibility is taking place. My preference, my mindset, my belief structure gets to be reinforced rather than the opposite, which is, “I don’t care. I’m throwing it out because it’s more convenient to me.” Hopefully, that will be recycled by somebody. The answer is, “It’s probably not. How can I up my accountability game?” That’s the question that we can ask when we look for truth is, we want to upgrade our accountability around truth, which is to ask the third question. Once you get to the third question, you’re like, “At least I have a little bit more truth about my own belief and my own bias to keep my ability to learn and move through things.” It’s so important to keep questioning ourselves. That’s where accountability takes place.During the seventies, all the commercials talk about keeping America clean by stop littering. Now it's not enough from a natural resource point of view. Click To Tweet
I hope that over time, we as human beings and as a society in America do learn and make progress on some of these things. I remember as a kid growing up in the ‘70s, all these commercials about, “Keep America Beautiful. Don’t throw trash out of your car when you’re on the freeway, pick it up and put it in a trash bin.” That was one level of responsibility that needed to take place so that we don’t just trash the environment. Now, it’s not enough to put trash where it belongs. From an environmental and natural resource perspective, we’ve got to be more active and participating in being responsible.
To hold the companies that are making the plastic responsible. The big part of it is you’re making something that is going to sit someplace for years or pollute our environment. “We can’t use you as a company. We can’t do that thing.” That’s the thing that’s unsettling. It’s a part of the belief bias that is shattered in my noggin. It’s not all on my shoulders all the time anymore. It needs to be 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% on the producer of the pollution to clean up the pollution. It is going to impact the cost. That thinking can help us out a little bit. We start moving to, “What am I doing that isn’t accountable?” That can make a difference.
That sounds like a good place to leave this one.
- John Oliver – Plastics: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on YouTube
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