(Or if you are from America, ‘Garbage’.)
No idea why I woke up thinking about this today, though it might have had something to do with the ridiculous amount of packaging used by Amazon, for sending small items in the post.
I have written about recycling before on this blog, as long ago as 2013. But even that has changed dramatically since this. https://beetleypete.com/2013/01/08/recycling-my-arse/
Do you remember when fresh food produce was loose? When grapes were in a bunch, not a plastic box? How about when fish and meat were wrapped in white paper, then carried home in a non-plastic shopping bag? If you can answer “Yes” to all those, then you may also be thinking about the huge amount of rubbish generated by the average household, in the so-called ‘developed countries’. Time was when all we had was a metal dustbin, with a lid that you lifted off. Everything went in there, and it was collected and emptied by the local authority once a week. As I recall, it was almost never full, except perhaps at Christmas.
More recently, we have seen the imposition of large plastic wheelie bins. They hold much more than the old dustbins, and we have three of them, not one. One is for ‘general’ rubbish, one for ‘recyclables’, and the other for ‘garden waste’. They are no longer collected once a week, as that has now extended to fortnightly collections. And they are always full, sometimes so full that we have to hold back some items until they are emptied, as the waste removal operatives (no longer ‘dustmen’) will not take them if the lid isn’t flush.
Why is that? There are only two of us; three if you count Ollie, but he leaves no rubbish behind. The answer is staring us in the face. Everything is in a plastic box, or some other kind of container. We no longer use loose tea, so the tea bags go in the bin too. You would think that we could recycle all those plastic containers, but no. Most of them are the ‘wrong type’ of plastic. This applies to cellophane, any black or dark-coloured containers like microwaveable boxes, and even things such as the plastic tops of some bottles, which cannot be recycled along with the bottles themselves.
Foil is recyclable, but only if it is clean. So forget that, unless you have enough free time to wash used foil. (Using hot water generated by electricity, thus increasing your carbon footprint) Paper is recyclable of course, we all know that. But is it? Certain kinds of paper and cardboard are not 100% recyclable, (shiny paper, for example) so that ends up in the main rubbish bin instead.
So we can be forgiven for being confused, surely? It even depends on what part of the country you live in, whether or not certain things can be placed in the recycling bin. Most of the population struggles with what can and can’t go in. In the effort to do the right thing, we plonk anything looking vaguely recyclable into the bin for that. Better than landfill, and it can be sorted by the waste removal people. They understand our confusion, they must do. But no, they don’t. They expect us to keep up to date with it all, and be aware of any changes or developments. We are supposed to read the tiny symbols on packaging, and to check online to see what has been added or removed from the ever-changing list.
Woe betide you make a mistake. The ‘Bin-checkers’ will be on you, and will leave a note. That note warns you that failure to recycle correctly could result in a fine. In extreme cases, they might even refuse to collect your wheelie bins at all.
Not only would this mean people dumping their rubbish locally, it also means that those of us who are unsure what counts as ‘good’ recycling no longer take any chances. If in doubt, it goes in a black plastic bin liner, and into the ‘general rubbish’ wheelie. That ‘good recycling’ changes like the weather, so I find myself unwilling to risk it more and more lately. The next time you are putting those carefully-washed yoghurt pots into your recyclables, be careful. Ask yourself, “Is this the right type of yoghurt pot?”
The answer lies with the supermarkets and manufacturers. Just stop. Stop putting grapes in boxes, asparagus into black plastic trays covered in cling-film. Stop putting potatoes into small plastic bags. Stop giving small plastic bags for us to put our produce in for weighing, and replace them with paper ones. Stop wrapping reams of bubble wrap around things that won’t break in the post, or stuffing out huge cartons with fifty feet of paper, just to send me something one-eighth of the size of the box it comes in.
And local authorities, you are picking on the wrong targets. Instead of threatening me over the inclusion of a plastic tray of the ‘wrong plastic’, get down to any of the four huge supermarkets in the town, and fine them for selling £1.30 worth of purple sprouting broccoli in a black plastic tray covered in a double-wrap of film.
Because if all this doesn’t stop, everyone knows how it will end.