As I have been redefining in my mind what rubbish really is, what is the point of all the plastics in the world and why are individuals taking on the huge responsibility of creating awareness in so many ways, I started to think that maybe the shift has occurred due to many large producers almost shoving ownership rights from themselves to the individual consumer. Individuals like the researchers who made the documentary film Plasticized. Individuals who take a science/art spin and try and re-jig human awareness such as Natalie Jeremijenko (click here to watch her presentation on “The Art of the eco-mindshift”). Individuals who have founded organizations or just have countless blogs and twitter accounts.
How and why has the responsibility to clean up from a commercial venture devolved to the individual?
My thoughts were taken back to a few years ago when we lived in a house adjacent to a forest park in Queensland, Australia. If you went through a gate in the back fence, you were in the forest. After heavy rains, the dry watercourse turned into a torrential creek, or small river. After one such downpour, a few days after the roar of the water subsided, we ventured down to the creek to investigate. The flood had uncovered the spot where the residents from 50 years ago had disposed of their rubbish. We found shards of old plates with designs from around the Post War period, parts from old automobiles, old enamel basins, and many glass bottles: medicine bottles, face cream jars, soft drink bottles, and whiskey bottles. Some old depression glass also.
Some of the bottles were intact, but most were somehow broken with the sturdier portions weathered by the creek, and of great interest to us as a family for some reason. We collected them all and went on little picnics with our friends to collect them in buckets, wash them nicely and arrange them. We talked about them.
One ongoing family joke was that on so many of the old bottles, still clearly visible were the signs of everlasting stewardship and ownership. So much of the glass fragments we found said things such as “THIS BOTTLE ALWAYS REMAINS THE PROPERTY OF JOHN WALKER & SONS LTD”. We used to joke about it: “Always? Really? You still want it back? Even this piece?” and so on depending on the lightness of our mood. It was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. I did some research today and it appears that those kind of bottles were produced in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Is it really true that Johnnie Walker still wants them back?
I looked today out of curiosity on a rum bottle from Bundaberg Rum that I found in a rubbish dump in Fiji that we use as a candle holder for any similar signs of ownership. None. Just “Established 1888”. Obviously, the producers do not want it back. Ownership of the bottle has passed to the consumer.
I checked on a sample of the hundreds of PET plastic bottles that I have amassed in our garage over the past two weeks from an area less than a city block. No signs of ownership at all – blank. The debate is raging in various parts of the world as to whether container deposit legislation is good for the environment. In the Northern Territory in Australia, Coca Cola Amatil was originally successful in blocking the legislation, but the decision has since been overruled. For updates on the subject see http://www.cleanup.org.au/au/Whatelsewesupport/why-do-we-need-a-container-deposit-legislation-.html
Fiji is also considering container deposit legislation. This possibility is the reason Coca Cola Amatil Fiji gave me for not being able to provide any public place recycling bins (at all, anywhere).
Even Coca Cola has shrugged away from declaring ownership. Coca Cola bottles used to be embossed with the words “Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company”, but no longer. Therefore, cleaning up the bottles they produce now and that choke the environment is also a problem that they no longer wish to, or can be made to, take ownership of. As the individual consumer is now understood (both implicitly and explicitly) to be the owner of the bottle, the individual is now shouldering responsibility of cleaning up the millions of bottles produced each year. Individuals are normally powerless unless they are in a sphere of influence. This seems to suit the manufacturers very well, as it is also relatively easy to stamp out fires of discontent regarding the environment that are individualized. Thus the wish of individuals to motivate others towards collective activity.
Is this the reason why it is so difficult to motivate towards true Corporate Social Responsibility, and how the concept is now really just “Social Responsibility” that must be taken on by individuals who have formed social groups defined by interests and motivations?