Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

(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.

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 Β£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.

68 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

  1. I buy almost all my groceries online because we don’t have a car and shopping with Little O is painful. So often I receive stuff and I am baffled by why things are packaged in multiple layers. Between the three of us we generate so much rubbish. We also don’t have a single recycle box… our rubbish is broken into the following categories:
    Black bin (general waste)
    Brown bin (garden waste)
    Cardboard bag
    Paper bag
    Glass and tin bin
    Food bin
    Plastics bag

    Apart from the food bin, which is collected weekly, they are collected fortnightly in various combinations you have to remember. We do our best but we don’t always get it right. Less packaging would make things so much easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those collection times are baffling indeed, Abbi. We are given a calendar by the Council, with the dates for the different bin collections. Of course, this varies constantly, because of Bank Holidays and times like Christmas. From the sound of it, your Essex Council multiple collections are even more flummoxing! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.


  2. I recall that nothing was sealed in plastic clamshells. At the variety store, you simply picked up whatever item(lipstick, brush, tooth paste) and bought it. I hate the cuts I have receive trying to retrieve a single item from an open-proof shell.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those ‘impossible to open’ packages are frustrating indeed, Elizabeth. I have damaged item trying to get them out. The shop I complained to told me it was because of shoplifters stealing too much, but I wasn’t convinced. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have recycling here but I am unaware of any fines if your item does not meet exact criteria. That sounds like a rort. On the other hand I understand too many people figure they’re recycling when they’re not.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You are right, Pete! But i think this will stop very soon, because Peak oil is on the way. With increasing population on this earth, we need the little bit of oil for medical purposes, not for packaging, or – what a sin – for producing heat. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your Sundays, like this one, are full of excellent thoughts. Amazon will not only have excessive packaging, they often use huge boxes for a small item. One good thing they do is attach labels with adhesive that allows us to peel it off easily and reuse the box.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh yes, the plastic garbage is a big problem of our time. But so slowly the environment is awake, since so much plastic waste is found in fish and the oceans! Let’s hope there is a change in packaging behavior.
    Best wishes, Irene

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yes it’s a serious problem. Plastics in particular are clogging up the oceans, killing off the animals who live there and ending up in our food chain. 😦 Time to restrict its use and return to materials that are biodegradable. Less packaging. Paper straws instead of plastic. Start with the low hanging fruit!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You pin the blame at the right people, manufacturers and retailers should hold a far greater responsibility for the unnecessary or ill conceived packaging. I do believe a change is afoot thanks in part to Mr Attenborough, but things take time. A good start would be to get them to pay a tax on any packaging that couldn’t be recycled, money that could be well spent updating our recycling plants to deal with the various types off rubbish there are. Some of the high tech centres can distinguish between types of plastic as part of an automated process, bringing these online would save a lot of head scratching and grief for the consumer.
    Of course the other view is that is we the consumer demand a change it will happen faster, start removing the packaging from the items before you leave the shop or even get to the till, if enough of us did it I’m sure a solution would be found sooner. I think the supermarket that moves to paper bags will be onto a real winner.
    Still a compost pile will deal with all of your food waste and a log burner will make short work of paper and cardboard (although this can be composted as well)
    Time for change πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do use the paper in the log burner. But unpacking everything in a busy supermarket? Not sure I have the inclination (or space in the shop) to do that just yet. Great idea though, let Tesco worry about getting rid of it. πŸ™‚ Taxing the companies sounds good, but I am sure they would just pass that on to us, in the form of higher retail prices.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Enjoyed the post. I always wonder where my recyclables go, if they go anywhere at all! This past summer I remember reading articles about how China’s decision to stop importing trash/recyclables is affecting local trash pickup operations. But yeah, there’s just too much unnecessary packaging and trash these days.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. We also have the large wheelie bins here in Las Vegasβ€”but only two. I suppose living in the desert makes it unnecessary to have a “garden waste” bin. And it’s not just the climate. Most homes have a backyard way too small to even think about a garden. Our trash pickup is weekly (it was bi-weekly before we were issued the bins). I don’t fuss about good recyclables versus bad recyclables. I just throw in anything that’s paper or plastic, and figure Republic Services will sort it all out properly. For large items (like old furniture), the company used to designate one or two days a month, but I think it may be by special request now. I’ve never used that service. Residents are billed quarterly. We can expect to pay about a dollar more each time. Currently, we’re creeping up on $50. If you don’t pay in a timely manner, the company puts a lien on your house.

    As for grocery items, it’s not as bad here as it is in your neck of the woods. Most vegetables are loosely piled (or, in some cases, arranged) in display bins. My first job in life was sacking groceries in paper bags, and I do miss them as a consumer, though I use them to line trash cans in the house, and then toss them into the wheelie bin when full. (So I never buy trash bagsβ€”a big savings!) My main complaint about plastic bags in the past was that they tend to spill out their contents, or tear. I solved that problem by buying heavy duty plastic dairy crates, which I put in the back seat of the truck.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You seem to have a better system in Nevada, David. The cost of collection here is included in the catch-all ‘Council Tax’. That pays for everything, from Policing, to road maintenance, schools, and rubbish collection. Our house is currently rated at something like Β£146 a month in total. By national standards, that is considered to be one of the cheapest tax areas to live in.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Pete, so much of this packaging now is not to protect us, but to protect the Manufacturer from lawsuits…expiration dates are only there to relieve the manufacturer of legal responsibility if we consume the item after that date – even though in almost all cases the food is still good – hello needless waste! I read a book called “Junkyard Planet”, and the Author looks at how garbage is transforming our planet in so many ways – because of this book, I no longer see recycling as good for the planet, but a massively successful economic aid to poor people and countries around the world….compelling post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, John. The other thing I didn’t mention is the recycling and disposal of broken or outdated electrical ‘white goods’. In fact they are neither recycled nor disposed of, because of the gases in refrigerators and freezers, and the metal circuits in things like washing machines. Instead, they are stacked in bizarre ‘cemeteries of obsolescence’, scattered all over the country.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I put off reading this post and read the Ollie one first because I knew it would raise my blood pressure! I’m so tired of being made to feel guilty for not recycling enough when ‘they’ should be pointing the finger of blame at the real source of the problem. Our council had a waste paper collection which worked really well. We all put our newspapers in the blue boxes provided and knew when to put them out by the kerb. Then, they discontinued it because they were going to trial a different rubbish collection in one part of the region before extending it to the whole region. It was a disaster, costing the council millions (though I did want to point out recycling our waste is not supposed to be a profit making concern but an effort to save the planet) so the roll out was delayed, but not before the council had spent millions of wheelie bins (and they now have to pay for storage) and new bin lorries which are also being stored. And we lost our waste paper collection. They say now it will be another four years before the system is in place everywhere in the region. Oh, and before the trial the council had built a new reclyscling plant and told us that we could shove anythign in our bin because it would be sorted at the plant – it wasn’t! I knew I shouldn’t have read this post. I need to go and have a cup of tea and lie down now.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Bravo! It is the same here in the US. Even when we choose to buy bulk, everything still must go in plastic to make the trip home. Being just the two of us, we can usually buy meat at a market that still wraps in paper. We try to buy less and realize that convenience of buying from Amazon certainly has an additional cost. (One of my fondest memories is going to the butcher with my grandmother and watching him wrap the meat in butcher paper.)

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I loved the speech by that young Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, in Davos this week.

    “Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope,” she said, furrowing her brow and fiddling awkwardly with her notes.

    “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is”

    she said.

    I fear it has gone too far for us to make much headway so we can only hope, and pray that governments DO panic and listen to these young people. I have been watching the recent series of wild life in our cities and at the end of the last one there was a statement about the wildlife population being decreased by 50% in the last century and that cities have tripled in size in the last 40 years. Now that last one is in MY lifetime. And of course means more and more land is being used to build and to grow crops.

    Sorry, going off topic there. But yes, why don’t supermarkets run the fruit and veg aisles like a greengrocer. Loose produce sold by weight and with brown paper bags. And maybe it is time to go back to eating what is in season, like we used to do.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I buy a large bag of potatoes from Tesco but they all seem to have a two day use by date on them. I ignore that and just cut off the little sprouts. There’s only two of us and I’ll use them until they go green! I think one bag lasts us a fortnight.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. People have become obsessed with ‘use by’ dates these days. I remember when my Nan didn’t have a fridge, and used to keep her meat on a marble slab in a ‘meat safe’. πŸ™‚
      Thanks, Julie.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This bugs me too. Supermarket cucumbers, wrapped in shrink wrap and then sealed in a secondary plastic bag! The skin on a cucumber is tough enough by itself. We buy where they’re sold loose.
    I suppose there’s a lot shoppers can do, go to places which sell loose items. I got a teapot for one so I can brew loose leaf tea – it tastes better too. At the farm shop and markets, they sell loose cereals, dry groceries and cooking oils – you just bring your own container or bottle. Waitrose now suggest bringing your own container to their counters, for meat, fish and cheese. They are also replacing black plastic etc. with recyclables.
    I do think we’ve reached a turning point but whether people will adapt quickly remains to be seen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This brings me back to the ‘carbon footprint’ again. Running around to a succession of different shops has to be done by car, at least where I live. By the time I have collected enough ‘loose’ stuff to feel better about packaging, I have probably caused more pollution that I would have had the original packaging just gone off to be incinerated. The big supermarkets have to make the leap, and it’s good to see Waitrose doing something positive.
      (The nearest Waitrose to me is a 26 mile round trip, sadly.)
      Thanks for your thoughts, and best wishes.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Totally agree Pete. Last week we received from Amazon a big cardboard box, bigger than a shoe box, that held 1 compact disc! I tweeted a photo of it to Amazon and said ‘seriously??’ And got a reply with a link telling me how to recycle stuff!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. They used to have a ‘packaging feedback’ forum, and I constantly complained about excessive size of boxes, and too much packing paper inside. They just stopped sending me the requests for packaging feedback! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. I would prefer to see my fruit or meat or fish up close…instead they hide it in packaging….recyclables….we have a new company and they pick up every other Friday and they give us one bin so when it is full we have to throw it away…..not good management…..I like to go to Farmer’s Markets I can look at the fruit or veggie I am about to buy. Enough said on a Sunday…LOL chuq

    Liked by 2 people

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