For years the United Kingdom had a very unhealthy attitude towards its rubbish compared with its European partners. There were weekly rubbish collections from the home; some places allowed you to put your rubbish out in plastic bags, whereas others insisted that you place it in a traditioanl cylindrical bin. When the dustman came they hurled the contents of a bin into a waste compactor truck, or else threw the plastic bags into it. I remember that my part of London introduced wheelie bins in 1987. They held much more rubbish than the traditional dustbin but made it easier and faster for the dustmen, who no longer had to lift heavy rubbish. The wheelie bin seemed to fill itself up every week; clearly there is a law of waste: rubbish expands to fill the size of the receptacle provided for it.
Even in 1987 when I visited Austria or Germany or Switzerland I noticed that there were recycling arrangements in place then, with separate collections mainly for paper and glass recycling. It took some European Directives and threats of fines and financial penalties imposed on local authorities responsible for rubbish collection to start a process of recycling in the United Kingdom.
Now, some twenty two years after the London wheelie bin arrived Londoners and the rest of the United Kingdom are now recycling 60% of their rubbish. That is very good news indeed. There is still plenty of way to go, but a nation that recycles 60% of what it throws away is beginning, just beginning to do the right thing.
The bad news is that the recycling arrangements in so far as rubbish collections are concerned have been inefficient over complicated and in some cases environmentally unfriendly. The street where I live has three collections each week. On Fridays they collect two boxes; one box is for plastic glass and cardboard and the other box is for paper. Usually the collection lorry arrives at about eleven and leaves the small street strewn with dropped bits of rubbish and desperate plastic boxes in all the wrong places.
On Saturday we have to wheel out the green wheelie bin, which contains garden and food waste. These are emptied in the morning every week, leaving the wheelies again strewn over the road.
On Wednesday we wheel out the black wheelie bin, with all the other rubbish. The black wheelie is not usually very full and again the wheelies are all in the wrong places like drunken soldiers.
I would very much like to think that all this recycling and the additional work and mess leads to rubbish being genuinely recycled, rather than ending up in a landfill site in China or Brazil.
However the final processes of what happens once the trucks leave my street with my rubbish is somewhat of a mystery. I would like to know that the rubbish is being recycled, but how can I be sure?