Is the Recession Good for the Environment?

Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles times reported that landfills are filling much more slowly now. The owners say it’s because fewer people are buying stuff, eating out, and throwing stuff out. That started me thinking: how could this recession benefit the environment? Could it even set a trend that’s good for the economy in the long-term?

Less Shopping = Less Trash

We have become a disposable culture. If something breaks, we throw it out and replace it. Everything we buy comes wrapped in layers of plastic, Styrofoam, and cardboard. This year, tons of TVs will wind up landfills because people replaced them instead of buying converter boxes. At the very least, our reduced buying levels will result in the creation of less trash.

Less Trash = Happier Planet

While less trash may make landfill owners feel the pinch, no one can argue that trash is good for the planet. It produces methane, it pollutes our oceans, and it uses up land. If we can make a permanent switch to producing less trash, especially non-recyclable trash, we can perhaps slow the negative impact human life has on the planet.

Fewer Exported Recyclables = More American Innovation

I also heard a report on NPR about the problem American innovators are having getting ahold of recycled metals, cardboard, and paper. Apparently, it was more profitable to ship our recyclables to China than to sell them to U.S. recycling companies. Now China doesn’t want to buy our recyclables because we’re not buying the packaged goods they make from them. That gives American firms a chance to create innovative energy, packaging, and product solutions that require those very materials at more affordable prices.

Unfortunately, recycling sorting centers are seeing lower profits and are closing down or reducing their hours. The excess ends up in landfills. In order to help the planet and allow for American innovation, we need to reverse that trend.

Desperate Times = More Innovation

Obama included green proposals in both his campaign and his stimulus plan. In good times when everyone has money, it’s easy to ignore our impact on the environment. Desperate times, like now, actually make room for more innovation because there’s less risk to taking chances, especially if the government is willing to support new initiatives that will create jobs.

Less Packaging = Cheaper Products

This is probably a stretch, but I hope that the reduction in purchased goods will spur producers to take a look at their methods. If they can cut the packaging on those goods, they’ll cut their cost to produce it. If that translates into a lower price at the store, then maybe people will decide it fits into their budget. At the same time, a reduction in packaging (which must be thrown out or recycled) is a boon for the planet.

This recession/depression is terrible. It’s hurting a lot of people. It’s also an opportunity to change our culture, our country, and our planet. If we change our ways, we could turn this disaster into something positive that will last for generations.

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