Saturday, June 30, 2007

Profits In, Garbage Out

Egan Ehlers left this comment on my last post about garbage in Central America.

"I used to live in Central America and there is indeed a garbage problem there. But in the U.S. and Europe, the benefits from better ideas about garbage disposal are ruined by the fact that packaging is so wasteful. Open anything -- from cereal to computer software -- and you find inside is mostly air. Many American-owned companies are generating third world waste. Their political influence is one reason packaging laws are not changed, not just in Central America, but in the U.S. and Europe."

He has a good point.

Imagine that every single time Coca Cola sold a drink they dumped a piece of plastic into a nearby river. Imagine that McDonalds collected all of the packaging generated by their restaurants and dumped it directly into the ocean. People would be outraged. Yet, in effect, this is exactly what these giant corporations are doing in the developing world with their careless and irresponsible packaging.

When a country lacks the basic infrastructure to collect and dispose of its garbage there is something profoundly disturbing about packaging so many products in disposable plastic containers. The beverage companies are the worst. Central America is literally covered with plastic bottles. A small deposit on the bottles would solve the garbage problem in an instant. Only a few years ago most drinks in Central America were distributed in glass bottles with a deposit so the infrastructure was already in place when the switch to plastic happened. Drink garbage was almost unheard of. Now nearly everything is in indestructible plastic bottles and the rivers and oceans are filling with garbage.

If the beverage companies cared the least bit about the ecological disaster they were causing they would institute a recycling program and a small deposit. In countries where many people earn dollars a day, it wouldn’t take much of a deposit to make plastic bottles worth recycling. And it’s not like Coca Cola and Pepsi haven’t had plenty of experience with recycling programs in first world countries.

But of course, Coca Cola and Pepsi don’t care. Every plastic Coca Cola bottle floating in the ocean represents profit. Disposable packaging is cheap precisely because it is disposable. The oceans and rivers and caves of the world pay the disposal fees.

This is precisely where governments should step in. Free markets only work well when companies can’t pass the costs of their irresponsible actions onto others. Polluting a river with plastic garbage isn’t free, so it only makes sense that the people who create the garbage should pay for the cleanup costs. They profit from cheap packaging and we all pay the price in a garbage coated planet. Maybe it is time to leave poor Nike alone for a while and focus on the reckless and irresponsible corporations who are helping cover our planet in trash. Anyone feel like showing up at the Coca Cola general meeting with a dumpster full of plastic bottles?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is absolutley disgusting. Our World needs to find better ways to get rid of our waste. People need to do a better job with recycling. The industries seriously need to stop using so much packaging it is totally redunent.