The world that we live in is increasingly changing. Our impact on the climate, natural resources, and the environment threatens our planet’s future prosperity. As humans continue to expand in number, the proclamation of Thomas Robert Malthus becomes ever more true, and the things that we throw away expedite this process. However, over the previous few decades a consciousness of this impact has blossomed, and some significant steps have been made towards offsetting it. Still, the majority of thinking is in correcting the problem rather than preventing its perpetuation. Recycling is an example of this.
Over the last few years, recycling bins have appeared alongside trash receptacles in most major cities. The idea behind this is to correct the dual problems of rapidly growing landfills, especially with regard to plastic products that biodegrade at a glacial rate, and the heavy demand for new raw materials. Unfortunately, this does not address the condition of over-consumption, which is the true root issue. In the United States, the current rate of recycling is 34% (of our estimated 250 million tons of trash generated annually). Undoubtedly, recycling systems are having a positive impact on the waste material generated, but there are some drawbacks. First, contamination (from foodstuffs, etc.) accounts for nearly 40% of all that is intended to be recycled winding up in landfills. Secondly, it is my assumption that the guilt-free feeling of “doing your part” by recycling increases our consumption of packaged products more than it reduces it. By re-appropriating Malthus’ mathematical postulation (sustenance grows arithmetically whereas population grows geometrically) we’ll eventually wind up with more garbage than we have in landfills now, strictly through recycling (figures for non-recyclable waste aside). This is because, as population grows arithmetically, landfill waste from recycling grows geometrically.
For my work, Untitled (Recycling), I have attempted to illustrate in visual terms the amount of material that one week’s worth of recycling in my house generates. I have done this by constructing a cascading mass of this material in a narrow stairwell inside my home. The overwhelming size of the sculpture in such a tight space confronts the viewer in human scale, making it impossible to ignore. The idea is that, far from doing our part to correct the problem, recycling is in fact assisting to ensure its continuation.