Printed on Recyclable Paper

When I enter the Columbia River Gorge after time away, I think: I’m home. It’s a good feeling, a comforting feeling. It’s nice to know that I’m where I want to be. The river is ready for my kiteboard, the dirt is ready for my bike, and friends are here to greet me and make fun of the outrageous sideburns that hang below my jawline. (I didn’t intend for the sideburns to come home with me, but I like them, and I wonder how outrageous they can become.)

So I’m home, settling into a summer of leisure and an unknown-length period of outrageous sideburns. But there’s something odd that keeps drawing my mind back to Summit Station. I would expect it to be the polar bear that arrived two days after my departure, or the camaraderie of new friends. But it’s not. To my surprise, it’s a poster. A painting. It’s a print of a painting, whose copyright information is at eye level when you’re sitting on the Green House toilet. More specifically, it’s a few words in fine print after the copyright. They read, “printed on recyclable paper.”

Over four months of mid-morning movements, I spent a lot of time looking at those words. I had time to process them, and this is what I concluded: marketing is a filthy load of deceptive bullshit.

We’re supposed to get a warm fuzzy from those words—particularly from “recyclable”—and be more inclined to purchase, or at least feel good about the brand: “Oh, how considerate of them to print on recyclable paper.” But they didn’t print on recycled paper, they printed on recyclable paper, which I assume is new paper, and is perhaps not so considerate. What they seem to be saying is: “you should do good things for the environment, like recycle, but we don’t bother.”

Furthermore, by announcing that they’ve printed on recyclable paper, aren’t they suggesting that the poster is disposable? That’s not good for the environment, even if it is recyclable. We tend to forget that production has as much environmental cost as disposal. Probably more. Packaging infuriates me, especially unnecessary things like individual detergent pouches. Sure, the wrapping dissolves, but those pouches don’t make themselves; they require energy. More and more, I view modern convenience as a blight. So much energy goes into disposable trinkets and excessive packaging. Want to make a difference? Stop supporting the monster; buy only what you need—and keep in mind that your first-world definition of need is likely skewed.

But back to the poster. If it’s disposable, what does that say about the artist? That his/her work is disposable? If I was the artist, I’d be pissed.

Does anyone else think about these things, or is it just me?

I think my mind is drawn back to these thoughts about a poster because I’ve re-entered the complex and indulgent modern world, and that poster was a reminder while I was away.

At Summit, we must conserve power and water. We don’t flush pee. We take short showers, and only occasionally. We wear the same clothes for a week. In order to perform meaningful environmental science, we must consider our impact on the environment daily. But, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t mention the incredible carbon footprint necessary to run such a remote science facility.

Ironic, isn’t it?

One Reply to “Printed on Recyclable Paper”

  1. You are a product of your upbringing. We did not use paper plates, paper towels etc or prepared foods. We cooked from scratch, grew vegetables, refinished old furniture, wore hand-me-downs and basically conserved. This new generation thinks recycling an incredible amount of waste is helping the environment. But, like you said, that takes tremendous energy. We should go back to the old ways. Waste not, want not may sound trite, but it’s smart.

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