J500 Media and the Environment

Make Less Trash, Not More War by shemme

Definitely not as cool as “Make Love, Not War,” but hey, sometimes you just gotta try stuff out.

FACT: Americans collected and recycled rubber, paper, scrap metal, fats, and tin cans during the 1940s to help the war effort. These efforts actually resulted in 25% of the entire waste stream being recycled and reused!
(Source: EPA “Milestones in Garbage” report)

warposter1.jpgWWII: “Help put the lid on Hitler by saving your old metal and paper.”

FAST FORWARD: It’s 2004, America is again at war, this time in Iraq. Soldiers overseas defy orders and report to journalists that they don’t have the necessary armor on their bodies or their vehicles, and there aren’t enough field radios, night vision goggles, or ammunition to go around. Back home only 36% (about 7 million tons) of metals are being recycled. Metals during this time make up 8% of the total waste stream. This means that despite soldier needs, 19.4 million tons of metal are being buried in landfills. Could there have been a national war effort to recycle all of this metal to keep our soldiers adequately supplied? I think so.
(Source: EPA “Facts & Figures” data)

Did we let our troops fight without wartime necessities because nobody really asked us to DO anything? Sure, there are the signs, bumper stickers, etc. that yell “Support our Troops!” but what does that really mean? If someone had told you it meant recycling, would you have done it?

Maybe it’s time to make recycling a patriotic act…again. Recycle for your country, recycle for the troops! It’s your duty as an American, after all.

NOW: It’s 2008, we’ve still got troops in Iraq. We’ve still got families purchasing body armor for their sons and daughters with money out of their own pockets. The unmet needs of our troops overseas are still there.

Won’t you take a look at your garbage? Won’t you help us reduce, reuse and recycle?

I did take a look at my garbage. I produce less than a pound of waste each day. The average American produces about 7.5 pounds a week. However, you’ll never find a can, #1 or #2 plastic container, glass, any bit of cardboard, chipboard, or paper in my trash.

There’s a war on, don’t you know, and I’m doing my bit. Are you?

~ Sarah H


Above: Our recycling in the garage…

Below: Take a hint from the 1940s: carpool or ride a bike.


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5 Comments so far
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Smart, provocative, and so low-impact, you are! I like the analogy, not sure if it holds, though, in terms of what the armor is made of. That said, I think this is a really interesting line of inquiry — what other eco-acts can be viewed as patriotic?

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

Yeah, we also don’t have any factories converted to wartime production to even use recycled goods for this purpose. This was an experiment for me in re-framing the issue – appealing to the patriotism of many Americans might work in some cases. There was some really great propaganda put out during the 40s … if only we could modernize it and use today?

I’d bet any eco-act could be viewed as patriotic with the right headline or word choice… like “Freedom Garden!” (after the WWII Victory Gardens)

~ Sarah H

Comment by shemme

And I can think of no one more creative to do it. . .

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

Interesting post, Sarah…now that I’m working on a documentary about local vets who have come back from Iraq disillusioned about the war, I’ve heard all kinds of stories about the lack of suitable armor, among other atrocities. And while I agree that our soldiers need to be properly protected, I also felt compelled to point out that not only did this administration plan poorly for the needs of the soldiers, but they also did the EXACT opposite of rallying us to make sacrifices for the war effort by encouraging us to keep shopping/consuming in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that were the supposed impetus for this war.

So, not only are they failing to capitalize on any need to combine recycling with efforts to mobilize citizens, they actually called for more needless waste!

Secondly, I’m not sure that tying the recycling efforts to this war would necessarily lead to more participation among Americans. Many of us who feel that this war was misguided–not to mention mismanaged–simply do not feel that prolonging this effort in any way is a worthwhile exercise (I’m not saying that should be at the expense of the soldiers’ safety, but there is a feeling that this administration has no moral standing to ask anything more of us at this point).

Sorry for the rant, but it gets really tricky when talking about this particular war, since it was sold to us with shaky evidence, and since it can be argued that the main beneficiary of any “spoils” from this war will be none other than the oil industry, which, of course, has several deep ties to this current administration. (Okay, now I must pack my bags for my unscheduled trip to Gitmo!)

Nonetheless, I appreciated the thought you put into this post–I only wish that our current leaders had followed your line of thinking from the beginning.


Comment by rarab

Sarah – This is a fascinating idea. I think there is a common sentiment among many that the common U.S. family does not understand the implications of the Iraq War because they are so detached from it and most don’t have a truly personal investment in its outcome. Even if, as Simran noted, the mine-resistant material does not necessarily come from recycled goods, I think as eco-issues are increasingly divorced from any one political agenda the patriotic appeals have the chance to resonate with a wider swath of the population. I was reading in the New York Times this morning that gas is likely to exceed $4 a gallon by the Spring. Almost every American drives on a regular basis and the increase is a terrible strain on the poorest segments of the population. Appeals for more car-sharing, bicycling, public transportation services, walking etc. has the chance to be something with significant popular appeal because it makes financial sense. If you could weave in a patriotic sentiment … whoa. Here’s a link to the Times article:


-Vince Meserko

Comment by vincemeserko

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