Society has fashioned a solution to the climate crisis that revolves around consumer’s individual choices. Many are led to believe that the much dreaded (and entirely unavoidable) 1.5°C of warming will be countered when we individually change our lightbulbs, come up with enough money to install solar panels in our homes, stop eating meat, and buy an electric car.
This is a neoliberal fantasy, and a way to delay effective action in response to climate change. While we are busy greening our individual lives, fossil fuel corporations are rendering these efforts completely irrelevant. As we mentioned in our previous blog post, the breakdown of carbon emissions since 1988 showcases that just a hundred companies are responsible for an astonishing 71 percent of total carbon emissions. While we focus on solar panels and going zero waste; they go on destroying the planet.
These corporations are countered with no ramifications for the pollution they cause, and the fixation on a minuscule lifestyle solution is intentional. It is the result of their war against the possibility of collective action to address this existential threat.
This project of neoliberalism has fought to ensure private power is free from accountability and to limit democratic public will. Policies of privatization, deregulation, tax cuts, and free trade deals have liberated corporations to accumulate enormous profits while treating the Earth as a sewage dump. Lobbying efforts from these corporations have obstructed green policies and kept fossil fuel subsidies flowing. Additionally, the rights of associations like unions—the most effective means for workers to wield power together—have been undercut whenever possible.
Tyler Linner, one-third of the team for Praxis Waste Solutions, has taken on a part of this corporate neglect, in terms of plastic waste, as his master’s thesis. He utilizes Precious Plastic’s at-home recycling machine design to bring a second life to disregarded plastic items. Currently, he is working with broken sleds, left in the forest by careless consumers, and transforming them into clipboards.
Faced with this plastic pollution, Linner explains that “everyone definitely needs to limit their plastic waste, but it’s the corporations that are really making it a problem. Corporations do it because there are no consequences and it’s really cheap.”
This has much to do with the history of plastic. In an effort for convenience, drink manufacturers like Coca-Cola switched from glass bottles or steel cans to plastic bottles as a cheaper alternative with low accountability. Initially, deposit systems were put in place for these plastic bottles. This system required drink manufacturers to add a charge to the price of their products, refunded when customers returned the packaging to the distributor or retailer.
However, drink manufacturers opposed deposit systems because they believed government-imposed price increases could drive sales down. Coke, Pepsi and others organized to counter deposit laws with a promise to implement recycling programs. “So, recycling in America really started because these companies wanted a cheaper solution they don’t have to be responsible for,” Linner stated.
In terms of recycling in Flagstaff, Linner explains that, “right now our recycling rate in Flagstaff is like 14 percent…most people don’t care, most people don’t know how to [recycle]. With all that combined, it’s so terrible. In a system that was designed to fail in the first place.”
Praxis Waste Solutions goals, in Tyler’s own words, is to “help people reduce their plastic consumption, while also trying to turn it into a business that can lobby against plastic production.”
Providing support for collective action, he additionally claims that “the only real change you can make as an individual is to organize. We know that using a metal straw is not going to do shit. So we want to find ways to help people organize, help people not throw things away, and also help companies buy products that are made from one-hundred percent waste.”
With an acknowledgment of the neoliberal ideology surrounding the climate crisis, Linner points out the issues around advocating for individual action as a solution. He explains, “the neoliberal policies around everything make everything seem like its an individual choice…and all this stuff is complete bullshit because it’s a structural issue. While that structure is still in place you can’t work around it that well.”
In an effort to tackle a larger portion of waste, Praxis has greater ambitions with this recycling project. “There’s so much waste that we are trying to scale up. From a standpoint of waste reduction I am ineffective in the extreme,” Linner said. “The end goal is to be a major producer of recycled goods in the region, the region being even maybe the Southwest.”
So, bringing your own bag to the grocery store is great—but it’s not going to stop the Earth from going into complete ecological and societal collapse. It is time to stop obsessing with how personally sustainable we live—we need to start collectively taking on corporate power. Collective action is our only hope for demanding government action on climate change. The only way corporations are going to stop polluting is through policy.
Call and write letters to your representatives and urge them to support a Green New Deal. Get involved with local climate activist groups. Engage in civil disobedience. Do something, and do it collectively.