The Fallacy of the Holy Blue Bins

It is mid-day, and you leave class. You’ve just chugged the remainder of your overpriced Starbucks coffee and you toss the used cup into the bright blue bin. You smile and quietly praise yourself for doing the earth some good.

Society has led us to believe that recycling is doing enough to conserve much of the earth’s resources and energy. At some level, it helps. But it isn’t doing enough. We cannot recycle, praise ourselves, and then go along with our days feeling as if we’ve just shifted the future of the earth in the right direction. More needs to be done.

Some say that if the whole world consumed as much energy as the average American citizen does, four Earths would be needed in order to sustain all 7 billion of us. Sustainability goes way beyond recycling. You can do much more. We all can. Because the fact of the matter is that we need the earth way more than it needs us.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think recycling is great. Saving trees is great. Reducing pollution is great. But it all only scratches the surface. Our society asks, demanding at times, that we recycle–then leaves a giant period at the end of the environmental crisis discussion as if a bunch of college students tossing their napkins into the royal blue bin instead of the black one is going to suddenly reduce the rate of America’s energy consumption.

No, it won’t, but it sure as hell makes us feel good.

I myself enjoy the feeling I get after having loaded the Haag Hall recycling bins up with used tissue papers and old exams that I can no longer stand to look at. But recycling isn’t meant to make us feel good. It’s meant to call attention to the stress we’re putting on our Earth. It’s meant to bring awareness to the fact that the negative impact the human species has on the earth is increasing much faster than the time it takes me to recycle my class syllabus.

Recycling is a great start, but if we plan on being on this earth much longer, there is no way it can be considered an end to what we do. The fact is that we are consuming way too much energy–so much energy that, according to the United Nations, 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record. The summers are getting longer and hotter, and the winters are getting harsher. The amount of energy we are consuming is negatively impacting our Earth at very high rates.

So rather than patting yourself on the back the next time you choose to recycle your empty water bottle, realize that though you’ve just done the Earth some good, there is much more work to do.

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