We live in a capitalist nation. Naturally, consumerism is extremely high here in the U.S. The amount of unrecyclable packaging feels like a slap on the face, while the majority of the population watches their every move trying to keep their carbon footprint as minimal as possible. If we have to try so hard to reduce our plastic waste, why don’t profitable companies make their product packaging more environmentally friendly? Unfortunately, anything surrounding what is considered environmentally friendly or not is controversial. This is because this is an argument between ethics and morals, and economics. To put it plainly, plastic is cheap, durable, and does a great job of protecting products between when they are packaged and when it gets to the customer. The recycling industry is an inconsistent and expensive vendor and isn’t a “slam dunk” solution to the overwhelming plastic consumption. If the recycling industry was invested into, a whole job market would open up, overall environmental consciousness will be raised, and companies would maintain loyal customer bases.
Some may say the apathy that companies display with their business practices is shocking. Most in the business world don’t see an ethical issue, only smart business practice. It’s what they teach in business and economic classes, so most don’t think these practices contradict ethics and morals. I know from personal experience; I took a couple of business classes and a microeconomics class when I was briefly interested in becoming an accountant. I remember there being a specific instance in class where we were given the scenario of us owning a business that caused a toxic waste spill and we were asked what the right business move would be. My answer to the scenario was to clean up the entire spill since the company was the one that caused it with their manufacturing methods. I answered wrong, according to the class. The “correct” answer was to clean the spill, but not past the point where it was affecting the company’s profit margin. If ethics were being considered adequately, if one is responsible for a catastrophe, then they are responsible for the repairs. Now, to align this with why most companies used plastic packaging versus environmentally friendly packaging: it doesn’t make economic sense to switch from a cheap packaging method to a different one that has the risk of affecting the profit margin. But in the end, the recycling industry needs to be invested into as much as and more than the plastic industry. When economics is relied on too much, and the big picture isn’t being looked at, businesses are hurting their longevity. If business continues as is, in general, there will be no economy. Our resources will be used up, our ecosystems will be shot, and our planet will be inhabitable. The business world clouds the brain and distances people from the natural world. Without our world, there will be business and then there will be no money. My point for bringing out this comparison is to display how detached business and related questions are from natural world issues. If the answer could be simple, it would be the richest companies, and the government should make the transition to the recycling industry and make environmentally friendly packaging accessible for all.
The government wants to maintain good relations with mega-rich corporations that our government allowed our economy to rely on, so it’s difficult to make that jump. The risk of profits lowering is the worry, but really, we’re risking humanity if we don’t make this transition. And this isn’t just regarding plastic packaging; it’s about how popular and encouraged business practices have largely overstepped ethics and morals. Of course, we couldn’t change how we operate overnight. But no one would need to lose their job if the government and corporations put economics on the backburner, and realize that investing in the planet and the people would create a healthier planet and population, and global economy. We can train a workforce, invest in the sustainable, and know that the more we align ourselves with the planet, the more it’ll help us have a long-lasting legacy. We could be the generation that sets up a respectful, healthy, loving, and fair society for future generations to live in and enjoy the fruits of our looms.
No one’s wealth has to be completely depleted to reach the goal of living in a sustainable and kind world. The billionaires in this world can solve all the world’s problems and still be billionaires at the end of it. But it’s the risk that holds others back from being the hero because they feel entitled to their status. Yet if the community of billionaires decided to act as heroes instead of villains, they would be respected by all of humanity. It’s the highest power that any human can have, yet the greediest people in the world won’t take that risk. Instead of asking why should companies make this change, we should be asking why it hasn’t happened yet and more.
Essay by: Samantha Heron
Western Washington University