David Newnham gets agitated about green etiquette and the urge to recycle.
I am as green as the next person. In fact, on a good day, in the right light and with a warm southwesterly breeze behind me, I am probably greener. See that man at the bottle bank, feeding in more empties than he cares to count? That’s yours truly, doing his bit for the planet. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Who sluiced stinking terry nappies rather than buy disposables? Who scratches his nose sneezing into harsh recycled tissues? Who said he thought wind turbines were actually rather elegant and nearly got himself barred from the Nimby Arms? Me, me and me.
But I have begun to wonder whether my local council is having a joke with me with regard to refuse collections. Never known for its pioneering spirit, Beetlands District Council came late to environmentalism. Very late. And now, it seems it’s determined to show us pinkos the error of our do-gooding ways.
Biodiversity in a bin
“So you want us to recycle your rubbish, do you? Okay, punks. You just made our day! From now on, your ‘normal’ rubbish bin — the one containing a turkey carcass and half an undressed lobster — will be emptied every other week. Yes, it will become foul and loathsome in the summer, and yes, your house will be full of bluebottles. But you people like insects, don’t you? Look on it as biodiversity.
“And on alternate weeks, while your nasty bin is putrefying, we will empty your new recycling bin, into which you may place only the following items: paper (not shredded) and cardboard, food and drink cans (rinsed out), aerosol cans, plastic bottles and, er… that’s it.”
What, no carrier bags, yoghurt pots or margarine tubs? No packaging at all, in fact, if it involves polystyrene foam, or polythene, or that impenetrable transparent stuff they use to protect light-bulbs, screws and drinking straws, and any one of a thousand items the shops want you to look at but not touch – until you’ve got them home and taken an oxyacetylene cutting torch to the wrapper.
Don’t get me wrong, despite injury, and the fact that it’s only a question of time before I sever something essential to life, I don’t have a problem with rinsing jagged tin cans so they can be chucked back into the smelter. It has a heroic, wartime ring to it, like collecting milk bottle tops for Spitfires.
Likewise junk mail. What joy it is to toss an envelope marked ‘Important Documents Enclosed’ unopened into the new recycling bin in the almost certain knowledge that person or persons unknown will be wiping their bottoms on it a month from now.
But this business with fruit juice cartons is doing my head in. Like clouds in Disneyland, every carton has a plastic lining. And because it is written in the Guidance To Householders that cardboard and plastic are two materials which, once joined together, no man may put asunder, juice cartons must also go into a landfill site.
Such are the problems caused by Mixed Materials that at Christmas, Beetlanders were banned from recycling wrapping paper that still had sticky tape attached. Even charity begging envelopes must be separated and sorted, since these frequently contain both a direct debit form and a ball-point pen for the convenient signing thereof. The council, you see, cannot recycle hard plastics.
Never mind that every other item I buy now boasts a label explaining how every part of its structure has been fashioned from fully recyclable materials. Not in Beetland, they aren’t. Our council doesn’t have the technology, or any intention of acquiring it.
But that doesn’t stop them talking to us as if we were naughty schoolchildren who have been on the food colouring all break time (“REMEMBER: Items for Recycling MUST be placed LOOSE in your black bin – not in bags”). There are so many hoops to jump through. In Beetland, one false move and you wind up with some teabags, the junk mail and three plastic pens, some brochures you never asked for, and six and a half cubic metres of unsorted packaging.
What’s that? The council reckons I should be composting the teabags? Now listen. I’ve had about as much of this as I can take…
• Originally published in GreenerLiving magazine in February 2007