There is great interest in recycling. And there should be – we are probably experiencing the most wasteful society in history. Global views of business and economy have distracted us from understanding individual need. But mass production outweighs, or at least minimizes, waste.
I remember when I went to work in the world of business almost forty years ago. The Business Office Manager was an old man with old ways. Volumes of paper would come through the offices and there were one or two employees assigned to recycling. They did not recycle out of a sense of social justice – it just made good economic sense.
The world was different then. Women were hired as secretaries or receptionists or clerks – after all – what could be expected from a woman? And the pay was commensurate – again, the women were seen as just a ‘second income,’ justifying low pay. Some of the women were assigned the recycling tasks. They recycled everything imaginable.
Paper clips stick in my mind. I remember one lady would take all of the documents and carefully remove the paper clips and sort them by size and then distribute them to office work stations to be used again. Paper shredders entered the picture in the late 1970’s. The energy crunch of that time began the process of changing world views. But the business did not shred paper to save the planet. They shredded paper to protect business information, and there were companies springing up that would take the shredded paper to use in making insulation for buildings. The business perspective is always self serving – they did not have to pay for trash hauling.
But they had a ‘girl’ doing the shredding. She stood at the shredder with a box of paper and carefully removed all paper clips before feeding the document to the machine. She was paid minimum wage. The paper clips were distributed for reuse.
One day a monstrous new paper shredder arrived. The machine had the power to shred paper clips – and the era of recycling paper clips was over. The cost of the minimum wage employee was greater than the value of saving the paper clips.
This is a familiar refrain – technology changes the way we work, and the way we recycle. Huge combines reap our corn harvest. If a combine can harvest 50 bushels per acre, humans harvesting by hand would probably harvest 52 bushels. The combine will leave two bushels scattered across the acre of ground. But the cost of human labor is greater than the two-bushel savings. The combine harvests 500 acres per day – it would take an army of people to do the same.
Corporate American is a culture of mass production. The business folks are not fools. Farmers are not fools. Grocery Store Managers are not fools. Paper clips are dispensable. Lumber mills began recycling saw dust and wood chips when the technology of glue made the recycling profitable by creating plywood.
Shame and guilt about waste and individual needs will not dent the armor of Corporate America. I am not arguing right or wrong – just reality. Show them an advantage and they will take decisive action.
Cost/benefit analysis rules.