Recently, I had to go to Ikea to get some office gear. And I’m always struck by the same thing when I wend my way through the labyrinth that is that retail establishment, the just-so nature of all of their pre-fab rooms. It’s tantalizing, everything in its right place with its right purpose – a suggestion that even I can learn to live an uncluttered life.
This vision is delicious because it contrasts with reality, which can be more than a little messy. I know that I long for a world of clean white lines and pristine floors, especially when I walk into my house, which contains two tween-age girls, a constantly shedding dog-and-cat duo and a seemingly unending supply of sports coaching and playing accoutrements.
This comes to mind when thinking about the scrap industry because I feel that some in the business like to frame e-scrap as a failure. And I am reminded of something that “Junkyard Planet” author and Bloomberg View columnist Adam Minter has noted more than once: Recycling is dirty, but it’s better than mining virgin metals, a process that is even dirtier.
Now, of course, the cleanest thing we can do is to not consume – reduce is at the top of that “reduce, reuse, recycle” hierarchy for a reason, right? But we haven’t heretofore figured out how to convince all of Earth’s citizens to stop buying so much stuff.
If we can agree that utopias are impossible, how do we decide what it means to do business the “right” way?
First of all, even if our realities aren’t as squeaky clean as an Ikea showroom, that doesn’t mean a dystopia is inevitable or even probable. I believe in progress and think that in the right circumstances (that need to be fought over and hashed out) progress is even likely. Progress, not perfection.
I am also firmly in the camp of compromise – of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I believe we should trust, but verify.
It’s great news that such a high percentage of e-scrap facilities are certified by R2 or e-Stewards or both. Those certifications are doing hard work to make sure the industry is doing far more good than harm.
But the e-scrap world can’t stop there. We need to continue to push for real investment in good processing capacity in the developing world. And we need to look for innovative solutions for problems that are out there now.
In addition, we must move beyond admonitions implying there is only one way to do things and only one country to do them in. We live in the wide world and so does the scrap that we create and process.
And with that, I am going to leave you for now in these pages.
I am leaving E-Scrap News’s parent company, Resource Recycling, Inc., and heading off to join the team at The Recycling Partnership. The national nonprofit group I am joining works to boost recycling in communities large and small by connecting municipalities with corporate dollars and helping improve the quality and the volume of the material placed in curbside carts around the country.
Though I am leaving, I want and need to thank Jerry Powell and the fantastic team at Resource Recycling for all the help and guidance through the past decade learning about and connecting with the recycling industry as a whole.
And though my new position is with a group that doesn’t touch on scrap electronics specifically, sustainability does not exist in a silo. There are important connections between the range of actors working to recover precious metals, plastics, paper and all the other recyclable materials showing up in the modern marketplace.
All said, I hope to see you around, all of you – the scrappers, municipalities, fixers and reusers, commodities consumers, consultants, reclaimers, mills, brokers, equipment makers, engineers, state and regional recycling organization leaders, trade association-ers, and everyone else.
Because I’ll be in the recycling industry, I know I’ll have to continue to roll up my sleeves and get dirty. At the same time, I hope we can help each other clean it all up a bit.