Guardarrr #10: No, I don’t think you recycle

Esta es la versión inglesa de mi boletín, puedes encontrar el mismo texto en castellano aquí.


This week I am thinking of recycling. Or rather, thinking about what we mean when using that word.

Although the usual tone of my newsletter tends to be somewhat more philosophical and introspective, this week – after the live we did with Orden a Tres where someone asked how to order recyclables – I keep thinking about what we mean when we say that we recycle. And I suffer.

I suffer because I have a great attachment to the idea that words mean what they formally mean, although I know very well that neither psychologically nor sociologically it is that simple. But I do think that the notion of recycling has been hijacked by those for whom it is very convenient if we use it incorrectly. I hereby claim that the idea of recycling must be liberated and restored to its dignity immediately.

And I am actually pissed with all English dictionaries now because seems that all of them include the imprecise definition as well, reflecting, the living language, damn:

So, according to Random House Learner’s Dictionary of American English © 2021,

Re•cy•cle /riˈsaɪkəl/

1. To treat or process (used or waste materials) so as to make suitable for reuse,

2. To use again in the original form or with very little change.

No, no, no. “To use again in the original form or with very little change” is not recycling, that is reusing. Recycling is breaking stuff down to becoming a material for making something. That’s the “cycle” part of it. Using the blank side of a paper is not recycling, it’s just using. Using a glass jar again is not recycling, it’s reusing. Breaking that glass jar down to tiny cullets and then smelting it into a new glass jar is actual recycling.

Even with a lot of cognitive dissonance, do we really believe that our homes are part of the recycling “process” when we “treat” our garbage by inserting it in the yellow container? If you stop for a moment to think about it, NO, obviously.

The households do not recycle, we sort our garbage into categories to increase the likelihood of an eventual recycling. Our municipalities, which have the responsibility of providing solutions for such sorting and the management of what is collected, do not usually engage in recycling either. Most likely, the waste management company has a few contracts to sell the different collected categories to companies that do actual recycling. Or they have contracts with a couple of intermediaries who then have contracts with the recycling plants. It is a complex, global and very inefficient system that uses a lot of energy to classify and transport our waste.

All of the above is made even more complex by the fact that each category of garbage – and its recycling chain – has its own characteristics. While one finds a factory that truly recycles glass quite easily (not for nothing they say that “glass containers are the jewel of the recyclables”), plastics and textile waste cause even international dramas like, for example, this one or that one.

Below are recommendations to learn more about the subject but I can only plead with you to:

(1) Stop saying that you’re recycling when you’re sorting,

(2) Stop saying that you’re recycling when you’re reusing,

(3) Correct others when they are using “recycle” to describe something else; it will make for a very interesting conversations, believe me.

The most in-depth author describing the Spanish garbage sorting and recycling systems that I have found is Alberto Vizcaíno López, his blog and his books.

And for a wider look at the global chains of reuse and recycling, although from a very USA perspective, I recommend Adam Minter’s books Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade (2013) y Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale (2019).

When you crave seasonal fruit but also know that its production is pesticide-laden and fraught with labor issues: La historia por detrás de las fresas de Huelva + ¿Dónde se reciclan las cajas de madera de las fresas?

It is very counterintuitive for us to understand the relationship most people had with acquisition of clothes before the advent of fast fashion. Even when presented with data, we struggle to grasp the reality of it because of how very different it is and how the inflation has changed the prices that you can see quoted in historic sources. Here you have a compilation of 1930s newspieces from USA that might help a lot: Living on $18 per Week, 1930s.

Argentinian visual artist Ana María Hernando and “This ritual of women coming together to do their craft and the place for this in their lives, and its cumulative, ongoing nature”: Beautiful Billowing Tulle Floods Unexpected Spaces With Feminine Power

Karolina Żebrowska on Beauty Standards Are Bullsh*t (and also actually showing how beauty standards have changed in the last 20 years; I, for once, hadn’t yet thought of 2000’s “body fashion”)

+ What I’ve been most afraid of during the pandemic: Insane after coronavirus? and Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19

And that’s it for this week! I hope that you enjoyed reading and would be very happy to hear from you, regarding recycling or anything else… in the comments below, via Facebook or Instagram, or via e-mail at luize.ratniece [a] gmail .com

Guardarrr is a weekly bilingual newsletter dedicated to sustainability and mindfulness in fashion. It is written by Luīze Ratniece, a sociologist and textile activist based in Barcelona. Guardarrr is both a tool for reflection and a crowdfunding channel for the wardrobe tracking app that Luīze is building. If you read this newsletter and value it, please consider going to the paid version to fund this project for a monthly equivalent of a coffee + pastry. Each subscription warms my heart immensely and helps going on, thank you so much for being here with me!

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