Happy Earth Day from Santa Greta

I trust that everyone is celebrating Earth Day in an environmentally responsible low-impact manner. Here are a friend’s photos from the Carnivale in Viareggio (Italy, in a much happier time) this year:

In one of them, Greta Thunberg says “thanks” for recycling, which raises a question about whether single-stream recycling is still practical in the Age of Corona. Are Americans still sorting through what used to be called “trash” and exporting plastic to Asia in containers? Or does what go into the recycling bin just get tossed into a landfill, a casualty of coronaplague just like the reusable shopping bag?

Update: Email received from the President of MIT, Rafael Reif…

Unfortunately, while we are preoccupied with the present wave of human suffering, the rolling devastation of Earth’s ecosystem carries on too. If this spring had unfolded according to the pre-Covid plan, today would have featured the last in a series of symposia designed to focus our community on how best to use MIT’s distinctive strengths in the fight to slow and adapt to damaging effects of climate change.

As I argue in an op-ed in the Boston Globe, the ongoing struggle to respond to Covid-19 holds important lessons about the kind of scientific advances and humane leadership it will take to succeed in the climate fight. I confess that this subject feels very close to home, because the past few weeks have showcased the finest qualities of our community, from brilliant hands-on problem solving and incomparable analysis and policymaking to an inspiring sense of adaptability, openhearted kindness, and a passion for service.

The painful challenges imposed by the virus will surely demand our attention for some time to come. But I am more convinced than ever that on climate – the defining challenge of this century – our community is also poised to do a world of good.

7 thoughts on “Happy Earth Day from Santa Greta

  1. Quick! Everybody! Pay attention or your house burns down!

    “The climate organization created by teen activist Greta Thunberg unveiled a new ad ahead of Earth Day warning of the long-term effects of climate change.” … ““Our house is still on fire,” she said. “Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. We are still telling you to panic, and to act as if you loved your children above all else.”


    On March 24th, she announced that it’s “extremely likely she had coronavirus” along with her father, but neither were tested. “She said her symptoms were so mild she would hardly notice them under normal circumstances.”


  2. My local city recycling center is closed to the public as part of the shutdown. We still have curbside recycling for most things, but not for glass. Thus I have increasingly large piles of glass jars waiting in my garage… and also lots of cardboard boxes that I have been too lazy to break down for curbside collection…

  3. “Or does what go into the recycling bin just get tossed into a landfill, a casualty of coronaplague just like the reusable shopping bag?”

    The contracted waste hauler for my county just advised county leaders that it will no longer pick up single-stream recyclables curbside because, after multiple outreach and education efforts, homeowners continue to mix household garbage and other non-recyclables with recyclables; and it was all ending up in the landfill anyway.

  4. > Are Americans still sorting through what used to be called “trash” and exporting plastic to Asia in containers?

    Not to China. They are no longer buying our recyclables because of their National Sword initiative, and we have not adequately figured out what to do with it all in the 2 years since. From Yale, because it’s about time we stopped reflexively picking on Harvard and MIT. There are some worthwhile links in the article:


    “China’s “National Sword” policy, enacted in January 2018, banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for that nation’s recycling processors, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past quarter century…In the year since, China’s plastics imports have plummeted by 99 percent…The U.S. and Europe, where many cities have longstanding recycling collection programs, have been especially hard-hit. Decades of reliance on China had stifled development of domestic markets and infrastructure.”

    “Everyone was sending their materials to China because their contamination standard was low and their pricing was very competitive,” says Johnny Duong, acting chief operating officer of California Waste Solutions, which handles recycling for Oakland and San Jose. Like most municipal recycling programs, those cities contract with Duong’s company to collect and sort recyclable waste at its materials recovery facility, where they are baled and sent to end-market processors. Before the ban, Duong says, his company sold around 70 percent of its recyclables to China. Now, that has fallen to near zero.”

    Supplemental and linked in the Yale piece: “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made”


    • Addendum: The film “Plastic China” premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2016 and is regarded by some as being a significant factor that led China to enact the National Sword policy. Who knows if it’s true that Xi himself saw the film, but nevertheless, about 1.5 years later there was National Sword.

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