The end of 2011 smacked me in the face with change. Massive, unexpected upheaval, which left my displaced sense of self reeling in unrecognisable fragments. In time a new form will emerge out of the healing process. I don’t know what shape it will take, but I do wish to direct it in a positive, self-improving direction.
Another way of regarding upheaval is to view it as an opportunity for personal development. I now know that I want to come away from this experience as a more tolerant and forgiving person in all aspects of my life. I’m not quite sure what this means in terms of my waste fixation, though I want to explore it, and discover where it takes me if/when I consider the perspectives of others.
Consider this example:
I tried to facilitate my former housemates to recycle. I set up bags for them to put their recycling in, I told them what household items can be recycled , and I told them I would physically take down any recycling they put in the bags. They choose to keep chucking everything in the over-stuffed kitchen bin. My interalised response was to curse them and blame their ignorance. My next move was to establish my own recycling station, in my bathroom. After reaching out, I withdrew and washed my hands of any responsibility. Looking at their pointless waste continued to disgust me and make me silently fume for over a year but I felt as if I were only hitting a brick wall with them, and that they were unworthy of any additional effort on my behalf.
Yet had I considered their point of view and practised tolerance, could there have been a beneficial outcome for all parties? Might it have been a happier *home*. Imagining their perspective: what difference does a little recycling make anyway? At work, as chefs, my housemates don’t recycle. Everything goes straight to landfill. In the end, was their ‘not recycling’ worth getting me getting so stressed about?
Let’s consider the potential outcome of practising tolerance in that situation. I would have told them all about the recycling bags on more than one occasion. I would have led by example but I also would have persisted. I would have been forgiving of their recycling mistakes. Instead of withdrawing in a huff to establish my own personal recycling station, I could have encouraged them to put even just their newspapers and cereal boxes in the recycling bags. The outcome may have been a bin that wasn’t so full and stinking all the time, less internalised garbage rage, and a bathroom free of recycling junk.
I’m aware I’ve never been a tolerant or forgiving person, but it is only as a result of much soul searching that I’ve become aware of my negative propensity to be judgemental and highly critical of others in pretty much every area of my life. In terms of waste, I just don’t get the wasteful ways of other people, and I too frequently flip out over it. Especially considering that my own outlook is in the minority, it’s probably a waste of energy to get worked up about the actions (or more rightly, inactions) of others.
Here’s to a tolerant and forgiving 2012.
If you go to Holborn in central London you will see banners on street lamps proudly proclaiming ‘inmidtown, Zero to Landfill’. This statement is misleading because it gives the impression that somehow all the waste produced from the offices, shops, restaurants, bars, and curbside litter bins in this zone is recycled, thereby avoiding landfill. While it all sounds very positive, only members of inmidtown – a Business Improvement District and membership organisation – can actually boast of being a zero waste to landfill business. That’s just 560 businesses spread out over Holborn, St Giles, and Bloomsbury – a sizable commercial zone.
The recycling services provided by inmidtown represent an ideal of commercial waste recycling - 90% of commingled recycling collected from offices is recycled. Electrical and other waste is also collected, saving members at least 10% of market cost. And collections are tailored to suit the needs of each business. However, these recycling services are likely to be more expensive, if only 560 businesses have signed up to date. And as we regularly discuss here at waste AM, (most) businesses aren’t interested if it hurts the bottom line.
Take the place I work, which currently uses inholborn (the recycling scheme run by inmidtown). Each recycling bag costs 75p and one bag of recycling is used each day and a half. Six months’ worth of recycling has been calculated to cost around £120. To me that doesn’t sound too much. Yet it must be, because the bosses have decided they won’t pay. Instead, a committed recycler and staff member has been fundraising among the staff in order to provide recycling and ‘alleviate landfill suffering’. So the cost of diverting from landfill is passed on to staff and not the business.
I find this peculiar and did not feel inclined to contribute. Although I do think that recycling is a ‘worthy’ activity and each of us should do what we can, I don’t view recycling as a charitable cause. I view it as an overhead of the business. (I also wondered whether the campaign would have been better served as a petition from the staff to the bosses requesting they fund the recycling?)
Sometimes I feel like I can’t give any more to this issue. While I take responsibility for my own actions, I cannot ‘save’ all the waste out there. I can do all in my power to consume less as an individual. I can carry on writing about wastefulness etc. which is itself a kind of campaign, though probably one that only reaches people already doing their best to waste less.
My mother used to be among the 6% of householders who admit to not recycling and was totally unaffected by the leafletting and doorstopping attempts made by Southwark recycling outreach team to encourage her to recycle. She was even proud of her non-recycling status. She made a joke of being the only one left on the street who didn’t recycle.
But she has come in from the wilderness.
Southwark Council has a new recycling system in operation in her street. Houses get a blue recycling wheelie bin (same size as black wheelie bin for normal rubbish); and a food waste caddy.
The normal garbage collection is fortnightly whereas the mixed recycling, food waste and garden waste collection occurs weekly.
The new system has led to a proliferation of bins. Okay, so she isn’t using the food waste caddy, which she thinks is dirty – it has become a handy dog food container – and she is only recycling cardboard and paper and other clean recyclables at the moment, but it is progress nonetheless.
Two factors have influenced her to start recycling:
The neighbours recycle now, and more than this, lightly challenge her about not recycling. They speak about recycling as if it were easy and no hassle whatsoever. While official recycling outreach initiatives had no effect the opinions of the neighbours has had the effect of normalising recycling as an everyday behaviour. I did not observe any of the neighbours talking about the new scheme as if it were extra hassle – even though they most certainly do have the option of recycling more than they ever did before as a consequence of the introduction of the new food waste collection.
The new recycling bin is very visible and it is just as big as the bin for non-recyclables, which she used to use for all trash. It is a very big thing to leave empty and unused outside of one’s house. The dustmen would also be likely to think it queer that it was never used; and perhaps my mum would feel embarrassed about it. So in other words, the permanent physical manifestation of the recycling bin right outside her house has made her pay more heed to the act of recycling, which can no longer be ignored.
The expansion of Southwark’s food waste pilot scheme coincides with a new recycling poster campaign titled Let’s Recycle More Together, for which I participated in a focus group organised by the Southwark Council’s recycling outreach team. The campaign message that recycling is group activity is borne out in my mum’s conversion to recycling. Now all her neighbours are doing it – now that practically everyone seems to be doing it – it seems petty to hold out and not recycle. Making recycling a group activity makes it easier to capitulate and abandon one’s stubborness.