Newest Review: ... taken recycling and waste disposal seriously. However with anything there is always both positive and negative things. I have listed wha... more
Member Name: cmh4135
Date: 20/10/09, updated on 11/02/10 (113 review reads)
Advantages: Economic and environmental benefit to waste management
Disadvantages: Undoing the good work by making it harder for folks to do good.
Waste disposal was, until a few years ago, a topic that really wasn't that controversial. We generated waste, we binned it and the lid was shut. As, however, we became increasingly aware of the effect (actual or supposed) of our waste on the environment attitudes started to change. Various "forward thinkers" took it upon themselves to spread the recycling bug. Bearded men with cord trousers and plain Jane women with hippy skirts could be seen trudging along the roads by foot or, for the enlightened, on bicycles, to these rather strange domed receptacles that started springing up in (ironically) supermarket car parks and the like. In would go the newspapers and glass bottles and our "Good Life" pair would trek back with a smug look on their faces and a warm feeling in their hearts.
How things have changed. Today we are both more aware of methods of waste disposal and also the generation of waste itself with recyclable/lower packaging requirements part of many people's shopping habits.
Waste disposal became a very big issue where I live as our local council was one of the first to move to fortnightly collections of rubbish alternating weekly between recyclables and general waste. With chipped bins (supposedly for collection of route data rather than data from individual houses) we had to learn a new way of disposing of our waste. If your general waste bin is too full for the lid to shut flat then it won't be collected (and there is power to fine). You can chuck out as much recyclable material as you like though. Rubbish "sorting" became the norm - if you didn't sort then you'd have too much waste for the general bin.
There are still problems though. In the early days we'd still have to make separate trips to the bottle banks if we wanted to recycle glass as this was not collected. Now it is but there are still items that are more recyclable than some that are not collected.
Green and garden waste used to be collected in special sacks that you purchased from the council. These were collected separately from the general waste. Now, apparently, if we want our garden waste collected we need another wheelie bin - a complete "no win". Many folks don't have the room to store a 3rd Wheelie bin and, if you do, you'll certainly generate more garden waste than the bin will hold each time you mow the lawn and trim a hedge. Given the fortnightly collection of this waste what are you meant to do with the extra for the additional fortnight (assuming of course that you don't need to mow the lawn again in the interim). Apparently the change was brought about because it would reduce the carbon footprint of the refuse lorry as it would only need to attend those properties that had subscribed to the scheme. I can't help but think that this is rather failed logic - unless whole streets opt out the refuse lorry still has to drive past. Add to this the fact that many folks will still head off to the tip in their cars to get rid of the waste (for there's nowhere else that it can be dumped legally and many do not have the space (or need) for a compost heap) and I suspect that all we will achieve is a rise in the carbon footprint.
In a month or so we are to meet yet another recycling initiative - food waste. A worktop caddy will be used in conjunction with a sealed bin to collect yet another type of waste. I'm glad they're starting this in the winter - very sound. In the winter we won't have hot sunshine to bake the food. I have a south facing garden and, unless I want to keep my caddy at the far end of the garden, no shade. That's going to be pleasant in the summer! I've already decided that I need to dedicate a freezer draw to waste food which I will just empty once a week into the bin!
Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-recycling. I'm not majorly inconvenienced by any of these initiatives. My issue is that they seem to miss much of the point. Those of us that dutifully traipsed off to the recycling plants when it was no longer de rigueur to wear corduroy or flowing skirts would recycle anyway. We're the folks who watch our waste (my wheelie is never more than half full over a fortnight). Those who did not recycle still don't really. I have neighbours who, despite having households half the size of ours still seem to fill their bins to overflowing every week. I know of folks who have no storage space who simply don't use the recycling bin at all as they have nowhere to keep it (and they certainly don't take the recycling to the tip where it can be sorted). I've noticed a dramatic increase in dumped rubbish around our recreation areas and it's not just the kind of rubbish that one used to see once in a while (the dumped washing machine that seemed to be obligatory on any common land at one stage). There are piles of garden waste (which I suppose one could argue will biodegrade in time) littering the lightly wooded areas around us. The public bins in the local park are full to brimming every day with waste that one assumes folk can't fit in their own bins. All that seems to be being achieved here is a movement of the problem.
There's a heavy fiscal incentive for the councils and local authorities to reduce the waste that they send to landfill. With the current squeeze on budgets they need to do all they can to avoid the landfill taxes. I'm not certain that they have really thought these things through though. I fear that the reaction of many councils has been a little knee-jerk. They see a solution but fail to think it through fully. Asking people to change their behaviour is never going to be easy or swift and, what many of those in power fail to appreciate is the fact that what might be easy for them to change might not be so easy for others. Refuse receptacles that can be accommodated in the grounds of a large 5-bed detached house might not be so easily housed in a 2-bed terraced property with a postage stamp for a garden. I have a utility room with a spare cupboard for my recycling - I have friends who struggle to fit a domestic bin in their kitchen without trying to store other waste too.
Undoubtedly many of these schemes have worked to push the headline recycling/dumping ratios up. But I wonder. 5 or 10 years down the line will we be picking up ever-increasing bills for the cleaning up of our urban environments from illegally dumped waste? Will our carbon footprint actually be increasing again as more folks have the desire to recycle but find that their authorities are actually making it harder for them? Will houses start to be built with dedicated waste facilities (storage or otherwise)?
No system will ever be ideal and there will be those who would damn a scheme before it starts. I just wonder whether we're going the right way about this issue.
Perhaps a greater emphasis should be placed on packaging and encouraging a return to old-fashioned shopping. Teach a family to use food sensibly. Offer incentives to package goods fairly. Remove the need for "jazzy marketing" to big up goods. For much of the time we have little real choice about the amount of waste we produce.
In a consumer society waste is, and will remain a big issue. We demand lots and expect more. Perhaps it's time to look for those corduroy wearing folk again - what are they doing now? Could we do that too or would it make our lives unbearable or dour?
We need to think, then act, then think again. Unfortunately, for those charged with our waste disposal I fear they acted before they thought (and does ANYONE have an example of a waste pilot that didn't go into full service?!).
We've come full circle and I think it's up to us now to take responsibility and regulate our own waste. We need to make our own trade-offs and our own calculations as to what is and is not acceptable.
Summary: Is there an answer to good waste management? If so I suspect it lies within us, not authorities!