Wheelie Bins

All over the developed world there is one thing that you see on almost every street. The thing is instantly recognisable whatever language you speak and spends usually twenty to forty hours a week on pavements. They stand like Daleks and litter the streets. They are the wheelie bin.

In the United Kingdom the average house has at least one wheelie bin, and altogether on average four rubbish receptacles, which usually include two wheelie bins. I have a wheelie bin for general waste a wheelie bin for green waste and two large plastic boxes, one for paper (not cardboard) and one for bottles and cans. Those who collect this rubbish come at different times and on different days so most days the street is littered with rubbish receptacles.

The theory behind these numerous and scene blighting plastic rubbish bins and boxes is that in the United Kingdom we are throwing too much rubbish in land fills sites and therefore should recycle more. This is an excellent theory because land fill sites are unsightly and environmentally disastrous. Throwing all kinds of rubbish into holes in the ground wastes our resources and usually pollutes land and water courses.

Recycling rubbish should save the environment and if the cost is some unsightly wheelie bins surely that is worth while. Unfortunately things are never quite as they appear. Not all of the rubbish that householders so carefully place in different bins and boxes ends up recycled. Some of it is simply shipped to land fill sites in China. Other is simply tipped onto large piles of waste in West Africa where the waste is poured over by people who try to salvage useful items and rare but dangerous metals, at some cost to their health.

It seems to me that in the European Union waste is approached wholly from the point of view of avoiding landfill. We start off with accepting that there should be a set amount of waste and then work out strategies to recycle of hide the waste. We start from the wrong place. If we avoid some of the waste going into landfill we save the greenhouse gas emissions that come from landfill sites as the waste decomposes and help alleviate climate change.

Our starting point should be to reduce the amount of waste that we generate in the first place. Packaging is capable of being reduced. We should not allow shops to set over packaged food. If you buy pears (out of season when I write this) you will usually find them sold in polystyrene trays, covered with hard plastic domes and wrapped in polythene. This level of packaging is unnecessary.

When you consume the pears you are left with almost no waste from the pears (and what little exists can be composted) but plenty of bulk packaging for which there is no option but the bin.

There are regulations that effectively charge a tax on businesses that handle (as importers or distributors or as manufacturers) large amounts of wood or cardboard packaging. The tax is small and positioned as an alternative to recycling. It does not really help the environment but generates an industry of bureaucracy in itself.

Reducing packaging will be cheaper and simpler than the organisation of dozens of wheelie bins all standing in a row, not as an alternative to them but a way of making their contents smaller and less wasteful and less harmful.


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