Recycling with the Keep America Beautiful Man – and the Hidden Life of Garbage

Prelude: People think of recycling as ‘green’ and environmentally friendly. The following post shares one rather frightening example of how recycle marketing has been used as a greenwash to allow corporations to slip environmentally unfriendly products through government regulations and to simultaneously encourage increased consumption.

Enjoy, or not, the KAB Man series from, but whatever you do, stay tuned for the more serious side of recycling afterwards….

Episode I – Hiring a Superhero

Episode II – First Day on the Job

Episode III – KAB Man Gets a Sidekick

If you’ve spent half your lunch break chuckling over the above, now it’s time to get a little serious for the other half. No need to stop chewing though.

Recycling is a great thing. We need to do it, and we need to learn how to do it as efficiently as possible. It should become as natural to us as brushing our teeth. But, I want to make a point here about where our litter comes from in the first place.

Please take the time to watch the following video, where you’ll see KAB Man’s new sidekick, Iron Eyes Cody again (seen in Episode III above), but, more importantly, learn some interesting facts about the original Keep America Beautiful campaign – that, rather than an effort in genuine corporate social responsibility, it was in fact a campaign launched to stop the spread of laws that threatened the profits and ‘efficiency’ of industry. The campaign was a bid to shift focus away from the source of the litter (the corporations who capitalise on built-in obsolescence, and encourage rampant over-consumption), and to instead transfer the blame to the individual doing their ‘patriotic duty’ – the consumer. Specifically, the KAB campaign was "was created in response to Vermont’s 1953 attempt to outlaw disposable containers" (wikipedia). The bottling industries wanted to externalise costs by avoiding laws that forced them to deal with returned glass (I still remember taking glass bottles back to the store as a child to retrieve a few cents back). Instead of depost/return/recycling systems, they wanted to shift to disposable plastic bottles – leaving the onus of cleanup on the individual and on munipical (taxpayer financed…) recycling. The cost of the greenwash campaign was far less than their own glass recycling costs – and so disposable plastic bottles were born into the world.
Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage

KAB Man – a superhero, or a
victim of corporate green-washing?

Not wanting to belittle the comedic efforts of the Keep America Beautiful people, I’d much rather see a campaign encouraging people to buy less by encouraging home gardens and cottage industries. The concept of ignoring the never-ending waves of fashion, look, and design, considering needs over wants, or developing systems of self-sufficiency, are never broached unfortunately. Also not mentioned is that recycling processes themselves consume vast amounts of energy on their own. The separate collections, the inability to recycle vast amounts of ‘recycleable’ material, etc. are hidden from the consumer eye.

Please take a moment to consider the definition of the following word:

verb transitive to use up; to devour; to waste or spend; to destroy by wasting, fire, evaporation, etc; to exhaust.

The concept of consumption always had a bad connotation up until about a century ago. So much so, in fact, that they assigned this name to a terribly deadly disease – Tuberculosis. This has all changed. Today, a good consumer is a model citizen of capitalist society. Our politicians are positively infatuated with the words “growth economy”. A healthy economy, we are told, is dependent on growth – and we cannot have growth without continual, ever increasing, consumption.

If the sink was overflowing, I could start a “Keep the Bathroom Beautiful” campaign, soliciting all of you to help with the cleanup. We’d all get busy with mops, right? We dare not regulate the flow of water by turning the tap off, you see – as keeping the water flowing is critical to progress.

The reality is that an economy that can only exist through a constant plundering of finite resources is to the earth what cancer is to the human body. Its success is made complete through the death of the host.