Trash troubles continue
The personal sacrifice by Daniel Gruber to clean up the nation’s beaches is thoroughly admirable (“A new way of thinking about litter,” Aug. 29, page 12) — unfortunately, it is also almost completely pointless.
This kind of selfless activism always makes for well-received “personal interest” stories, which the media love — the selfless hero in pursuit of the common good.
However, such stories can be profoundly misleading.
While I wholeheartedly share the good intentions and sincerely hope that such actions will spread public awareness and lead to better education about Taiwan’s trash problems (“Taiwan’s trash troubles,” Jan. 11, page 8), I very much fear that these good intentions may be overshadowed by unintended consequences.
Most importantly, cleaning beaches will result in endless, Sisyphus-like efforts because it does not address the underlying problem of growing environmental pollution.
There is now so much trash in the oceans, and more is added each day, that an endless supply of beach pollution is guaranteed (see Wikipedia: “Great Pacific garbage patch”).
Because of the amount of non-degradable garbage, cleaning beaches can only ever remove the tip of the trash iceberg.
Therefore, cleaning beaches is no permanent solution to an urgent environmental problem, just as killing your engine at red traffic lights is no solution to the air pollution problem.
Possibly worse, such activism, if not accompanied by education, can seriously mislead the public into thinking that the problem has been taken care of when it has not.
It also lets those responsible for the pollution off the hook, when they should really pay for it.
The only feasible solution is much better government regulation, enforcement of trash avoidance and recycling — the initiation of a truly circular materials economy using degradable and non-stoxic materials, called cradle-to-cradle (Google also for “The Story of Stuff”) — and enough public money to finance such schemes.
For example, many poor people continue to throw trash into the environment because they do not want to pay fees: I would recommend making trash collection free.
Let us hope that Gruber expends more energy on lobbying for truly sustainable change and less energy on picking up trash in the future.