Should Companies Be Responsible for Their Trash?
One morning this past summer, I took a walk, and I picked up trash along the sidewalk as I went along. It was obvious where most of the trash littering the sidewalk was coming from: Cups branded with a local cafe’s logo were scattered near the cafe. Wrappers from a local taco place were, you guessed it, right by the restaurant.
Also scattered around were various cigarette butts and candy or granola bar wrappers. Those aren’t disposable and won’t break down.
The onus has always been on customers to dispose of trash responsibly — or avoid it entirely. The cost of recycling items has fallen on many cities and their taxpayers.
However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that recycling is not as easy as many of us have been led to believe. And many items can’t be recycled.
There is a growing zero waste movement, in which people aim to create no trash in the first place. To be a zero waster, you have to radically change what you buy.
But it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible. I take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, but most of the groceries I want to buy are wrapped in plastic. A medication I have to take monthly comes in foil-and-plastic packaging that’s impossible to recycle. And if I’m not paying attention, the pharmacy will slip that medicine into another plastic bag.
Plastic can be recycled into clothing, but this can break up into fibers that pollute waterways.
I try to avoid waste by buying less, buying secondhand, and by recycling items like outdated electronics. But that seems like a drop in the bucket when I get to my job, where nothing is recycled.
Some companies don’t even follow their own policies. I recently gifted a reusable takeout cup to someone I know who buys coffee at a local cafe. (He expressed interest in zero waste, so I wasn’t exactly pushing my beliefs on him too much.)
But after using it a few times, he declared the experiment was a failure.
“It’s not worth it,” he said. “I hand [the cashiers] the cup, and they stare at me and don’t know what to do with it. And they don’t always give me the discount.” He’s been handed a cup with coffee spilled all over it, or filled with 80% ice and 20% coffee — things that never happened before the reusable cup.
I could write to the company and encourage them to train their cashiers better, but why should I have to? Many people aren’t going to take that initiative. Until companies — and the people who run them — start taking responsibility, our planet will slowly fill up with litter.