From reducing the consumption of meat to Michael Gove’s plan to ban plastic straws within a year, the UK and other countries across the globe have been continuously warned about the ever-growing threat of climate change and pollution.
In this stirring effort to educate, encourage and mobilise more effective planning and action for the safeguarding of our planet, news of corruption and fraud in the UK plastics recycling industry has recently burst forth, risking further environmental scepticism in the process.
With two thirds of our plastic-packaging waste being exported by an export industry worth £50m in 2017, we should surely ask ourselves: is environmentalism being exploited for monetary gain?
The Environmental Agency (EA) has been in the limelight these past few days for going so far as to set up an investigation to deal with ominous complaints about organised criminals and firms abusing the recycling system. Not only that, six UK exporters of plastic waste have had their licenses cancelled or suspended in the last three months alone.
The corruption in the UK plastics recycling industry appears to have metastasised to such a degree that it seems appropriate to call it a ‘dirty trade’. The consequences of this dirty trade not only result in the illegal shipment of contaminated waste to the Far East via European countries like the Netherlands, but it also leads to UK plastic waste not being recycled, causing it to spread into our rivers and oceans.
UK citizens are rightly encouraged to recycle their plastic waste daily; indeed, it is their social responsibility to do so. As most people know, and to quote an American proverb, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”. Nevertheless, agencies we entrust to export this waste sensibly and ethically, like the EA, have failed to adhere to these standards.
Interestingly, consumerism and environmentalism have always been viewed as opposing constructs; with one emphasising the consumption, accrual and distribution of material resources, the other counteracting over-consumption through impactful conservation and sustainability. Put differently, the tension between them is a matter of possession and greed vs compassion and social concern. It seems that this tension is not so distinct as it was in days of yore.
Democracy is often said to be the least bad of a lot of bad systems. While environmental policies have become an important political issue for voters, incurring positive changes in people’s perceptions and attitudes towards the environment and in boosting their participation in environmental issues, democracy is not a natural ally of the tough measures necessary to protect the environment. This is especially true when voters are not informed or else fail to care about environmental issues.
Saving the planet requires limits and sacrifices. However, we have a problem when leaders are unwilling to burden businesses with extra costs to ensure good environmental practices, let alone ensuring that public bodies are not cutting corners, when the fear of damaging the economy and losing office is so high.
Institutionalising our love and care for our environment seems like a strategy to make organisations and, more accurately, our governments look capable and honest in their efforts to protect the environment. The philosophy of environmentalism and being environmentally conscious, however, comes with how we choose to live and in how we educate ourselves. The philosophy shouldn’t concern who we look up to in power when our planet is so imperilled.
When environmental companies like the EA solely seek to reduce friction with the governments they serve by reducing costs and deceiving the public, they willingly choose to play a foolhardy game that results in the desecration of our planet.
Destructive corporations have attempted to veil their unethical deeds by attempting to preserve their power and expand their markets by painting an image of being ‘environmentally friendly’. Now, the very industry that is meant to put the environment first has been caught green-handed.
The real and imminent dangers to our planet and our lives have to be driven home. It is only through being informed voters, however, that we can hold those damaging the environment accountable. Until then, we continue to be hornswoggled by those gaining from environmental degradation. Until then, we continue defiling the only planet that we have.
Co-authored by Dominic Lauren