On the Road Again: Is Recycling a Political Statement?

Our society has done an outstanding job creating and perpetuating stereotypes: over-simplified assumptions and widely held beliefs about how a society, group, or thing might look or behave. So as not to offend, I’ll offer myself and my Scottish heritage up as an example. Contrary to popular belief, all Scottish folk don’t drink Scotch (I prefer tequila), we don’t all own and wear kilts (although I reckon they are probably quite comfortable), and I’ve never eaten haggis (thankfully). And, by the way, I don’t have any desire to do any of the above while wandering around in the middle of nowhere in the Scottish highlands amongst the gorse, herding sheep trying to remember the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne.

relentless recycler pemcoIn the Northwest, we’ve also done an excellent job molding an image of the stereotypical recycler. To the front and center, Pemco and your “Obsessive/Compulsive Recycler” advertisement. Take 30 seconds and check it out.

Pemco’s amusing commercial hits the “stereotype grand slam” by implying recyclers in the Northwest are predominantly women; that many of these women spend hours of quality time in their garages devoutly sorting their glass bottles by color as if it were their ticket to an eternal afterlife; and that many of these women suffer from Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, compelled to scrub their soiled aluminum foil before dropping it into their recycle bin. If you look closely, you’ll also notice they even threw in for good measure a late-model Volvo 240D parked in the driveway that, at least in the Northwest, screams liberal.

Oh boy.

The directors of this commercial might as well as have dressed the actor in Birkenstocks, hemp underwear, a tie-died Grateful Dead t-shirt, and put a flower in her hair to top off the ensemble. Such is the danger inherent with stereotypes.

So, does this mean that by default all political conservatives are going to be lumped in with the stereotypical “right winger” that throws his aluminum pop can in the trash in defiance; thinks that there’s nothing more beautiful than a fresh clear cut on a crisp fall morning; or believes that no body of water is complete without an oil derrick? I certainly hope not, but unfortunately, I work in an industry where the prevailing stereotype has been that conservatives don’t recycle and don’t particularly care for the environment or at least give short shrift to it over other competing concerns when forming their policies and taking action. Fortunately, there’s a growing group of conservatives like myself that believe that the protection of our natural environment and resources should transcend traditional political stereotypes and play a decisive role in the development of policy.

And to put a cherry on top, I even owned and drove a Volvo 240D for many, many years.

It’s our role as professionals in the solid waste and recycling field to relentlessly break down all stereotypes and educate those that might be predisposed to make nonsensical political statements to the detriment of the environment just to be contrarian. Waste reduction and recycling is the one behavior that can and should transcend our political leanings, our religious beliefs, the color of our skin, or anything else. We, as stereotypical human beings, can all play a role in reducing our waste, reusing our resources, and recycling.

2 comments

  1. Debby

    Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful commentary. I grow weary of every single issue, whether it be views on health care or the kind of car one drives, devolving into political identity and “I’m right, you’re wrong.” Right, wrong, left, right, up, down, some things just ARE, are for the betterment of our planet, and should be at the forefront of our collective conscience as a society, worthy of attention and action… Urgently and transcending politics. I would love to see concern for the environment rise above that knee-jerk cop-out laziness of thought. Yet I will make a minor exception as I label myself as a fellow (part) Scot who, like you, does not like whiskey or haggis, and I own nothing in my Clan MacKenzie tartan. :-)

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