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.
Today I celebrate my one year anniversary of living in whiffy garbage heaven.
Its malodorous content radiates fried chicken grease with a hint of pongy rotten vegetable matter. It’s 29 degrees Celsius; close your eyes, inhale the sweet aroma of household waste, gently fermenting. Absolutely nothing is recycled here; we like the bin to be full and stinky and we only empty it every eight or nine days! Sometimes we like to leave it in the hallway for four days before chucking it; that way it bids you the most pungent olfactory greeting imaginable.
When I moved in September 2010 I broached the bin issue: was it erm, always full? Oh right I see you work a lot and you don’t know how to recycle. Okay. Well this is recycling receptacle – holds it aloft and spins it around – and inside you can put in anything that can be RE-CY-CLED. Things like newspapers (they are made of paper so they can be recycled). And cans when you have had a soft drink. And glass bottles. These things can be recycled.
If you put a clean recyclable thing in the recycling receptacle I will take it down for you, so no need to worry if you don’t have the time, because you work a lot, don’t you. I will take it down for you. It’s really easy, anyone can do it. That should mean we won’t have to take the bin down so frequently too.
The thing is, it didn’t really work out that way.
After a spell of pulling up the slack: recycling where possible, taking the bin out when it was full and before it got smelly, nothing had changed and I found I couldn’t take it anymore.
I had to stop rescuing cereal boxes from other people’s garbage; I was twenty five – I had a life to lead.
It wasn’t healthy to cry a plastic tear every time I looked at our household landfill site. I elected to opt out.
So I became the apathetic womble of Old Street. A creature with strange rubbish collecting and sorting habits conducted in the privacy of the bathroom.
I’ve been thinking of ways to influence others to waste less for sometime without giving due consideration to the reasons causing the wastefulness in the first place. Our problem with waste stems from human desire to acquire stuff and consume more. We’re consuming stuff at an alarmingly unsustainable and unequal rate. It’s not fair on people in developing countries; it selfishly uses up resources that should be replensihable for future generations ; and it threatens the continued existence of innumerable species.
I have heard it said many times that one of the reasons people waste so much is because the public is uneducated about the issues. The logic goes that if children are taught in school why it is good to recycle and bad to waste food, they will become model adult citizens.
I don’t think it is merely a matter of education. I think it is ignorance. I think most people just don’t care. Others prefer to have their head in the sand about the facts and what destruction the wastefulness is causing.
Should we educate people about waste issues? How can a day’s worth of teaching or a local authority leaflet campaign possibly counter the images that bombard us every day, urging us to buy, buy, buy?
Culture of Consumerism
Never before have people had so much stuff. Are we any happier? Consumer culture has implanted twisted values in our minds. We value who has the most, not who has done the most good.
Long-term Investments Vs Short-term profit
Creating a more efficient *resource* stream requires investment. In order to get people to reuse more and recycle (remember most people don’t care) it has to be easy and convenient for them. Setting up separate food waste collection schemes requires investment. In the long-term investment making the resource stream effective will pay off. It may not line anyone’s pockets but it will preserve resources.
The problem is change is expensive and the people who make the decisions have short-term mandates.
Lack of Responsibility for Resource Lifecycle
In our crazy system the manufacturer or retailer is not properly accountable for the junk they send out into the world. The consumer pays twice (at the counter and through council tax to dispose of the junk). The manufacturer gets off too lightly for producing plastic waste and toxic garbage that has an enduring and harmful waste legacy.
Invisible Long-Term Impact of Waste
We no longer have to confront the detritus we consume, which is conveniently collected from our homes for us and goes far away from us where we can neither see nor smell it. Nobody seems to know where it goes. We have removed heavily industry from our towns. Nobody seems to know what energy or resources is required to make crap, or for a chicken to produce an egg.
What other problems do you think we’re up against?