“Every minute, every single day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. In the name of profit and convenience, corporations are literally choking our planet with a substance that does not just “go away” when we toss it into a bin. Since the 1950s, some 8.3bn tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, and to date, only 9% of that has been recycled. Our oceans bear the brunt of our plastics epidemic – up to 12.7m tons of plastic end up in them every year.”
Usually after reading something like this, you’d expect to be shamed into recycling more. Thankfully, those days may be mostly behind us, because anyone paying attention to plastic pollution is starting to understand that personal choices won’t stop plastic and the onslaught of waste and toxins produced by consumer capitalism. So long as a company can turn a profit, which is the engine that powers capitalism, they will pollute and pollute, until the whole world fails.
Annie Leonard, author of the article, recognizes this and writes:
“For years, we’ve been conned into thinking the problem of plastic packaging can be solved through better individual action. We’re told that if we simply recycle we’re doing our part. We’re told that if we bring reusable bags to the grocery store, we’re saving the world. We think that if we drink from a reusable bottle, we’re making enough of a difference. But the truth is that we cannot recycle our way out of this mess.”
We cannot recycle our way out of this mess, this is true. Placing the burden on consumers was always a losing move, anyway. Consumers have been programmed to consume, not to consider the consequences of their actions, on the planet.
We buy a Coke to enjoy the taste and sugar rush, and once we’re done, we’re done. “Enjoy a Coke.” A Coke is something we enjoy, and there’s no obligation beyond that. Consumer capitalism won’t function if everyone is thinking of the ramifications of what happens to that plastic bottle.
For Leonard, this means that we ought to be pressuring corporations, directly:
“This is their crisis to tackle. We will continue to do our part, but it’s time for the world’s largest corporations to do theirs. Some 322m tons of plastic were produced in 2015, and that number is expected to double by 2025. The good news is that we are at a turning point. All over the world, people and businesses are waking up to the dangers created by single-use plastic. Now, we must demand a new era that prioritizes people and planet over profit and convenience.” [emphasis added]
I think that this still misses the point. Why, exactly, would corporations give a shit? They operate within a capitalist economy, meaning that their god is profit. Profit is the engine that makes capitalism work, and yes, there are some corporations that we call “responsible,” there are some corporations who believe in “conscious capitalism,” but these are just ideals detached from the economic nuts and bolts of how capitalism works. In the real world of business, if your competitor takes a short cut, then you have to, as well, in order to compete.
It’s just as futile to depend on policing corporations as it is to shame consumers. You can’t serve God and money, as Christians used to say, which meant that so long as your priority is accumulating wealth, doing the right thing is going to take a backseat.
People and planet over profit and convenience? That’s not how capitalism works. Consumer capitalism is driven by profit and convenience, not by people and planet. The only way to prioritize people and planet is for a new socio-economic system.