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Waste is a multi million dollar industry too..

Spurious Correlations

“While some claim that hides and skins are by-products of the meat industry, the leather industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.” If I had £1 for every time I’ve seen a letter, or a report, or an official representation that said this, I’d be far, far richer. Or, perhaps I’d have a better single-malt collection. Either way, I’d be better off. While the statement isn’t factually incorrect, it’s the way it’s used that I challenge. Every time I see this statement, it’s used as evidence that an industry this large must be held responsible for the environmental and social impacts of the materials they process.

But I’m not sure the argument holds water. Let me explain.

The waste management industry is also a global multi-billion dollar industry. Yeah, these guys are pure genius – they’ve worked out how to make profit from the stuff we see as valueless. (For the sake of clarity, I include the whole waste industry in here from disposal through recycling and reuse – because collectively they do and manage it all. Brilliantly.)

Despite the fact that the waste management industry is a multi billion dollar industry, we tend not to use this as evidence that they are responsible for the environmental and social impacts of the materials they process. If we did ask them to take on the liability of climate impact of the materials we throw away, then we would be creating a scenario where they would refuse to take our wastes because we did not source them ethically, because they would be penalised for your poor purchasing decisions.

Let that sink in for a minute – what would happen if your waste management company refused to take your waste because you couldn’t demonstrate a clean supply chain all the way back to source?

The size of an industry does not necessarily correlate with the level of influence it has on the extraction and management of the materials it processes. Just because numbers tell a nice story, it doesn’t mean we should believe that story blindly.

Could I please ask that we sometimes stop and think about what we say. And perhaps step outside our beautifully crafted echo chambers, lined with our most luxurious and carefully placed beliefs, to challenge our assumptions about this world. Let’s put windows and doors in our echo chambers that we may talk, share ideas, and learn.

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