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In the UK the advent of what will become known as “The Green Police” has already begun but as with all zeal between the plan and the application there is a chasm that will almost certainly become “The graveyard of good intention”. The recycling of household waste was for a long time an ad-hoc affair, which went largely unregulated by the local authorities that provided a disposal site where items of waste that could not be put into the refuse bins for general collection by the council run refuse collection service could be deposited. There was, up until a couple of years ago a weekly collection of household waste but with the implementation of the recycling fervour that weekly collection has now been stretched to once every two weeks. It should have been obvious that there might be “Teething problems” when the change to the regular weekly collections became a “Bi-weekly” affair with a public that had their refuse collected on a weekly basis now finding that the refuse bin that was easily filled in a week now had to retain two weeks rubbish [trash] until it was collected. The problem is one of complacency, the service was always there and largely unnoticed and now it is not. To expect the public to change the way they treat and see rubbish/household waste is perhaps a utopian concept that may not come to pass for many years but the alternatives to recycling are not limitless and will disappear.
No more than two years ago recycling was something expected of a “Lunatic fringe” that wore “Jesus boots”, “Lived on brown rice” and was known to “Hug the odd tree” but the times are changing fast. A Bill placed upon the statute books demanded that every local authority in the UK turned from dumping all waste in landfill sites and began to reclaim resources that up to that point had been thrown away. The edict was that either they recycle or make alternative arrangements for disposal that did not burden the landfill sites further. If they did not comply the sanction of heavy fines was the penalty.
Many council run refuse collection services opted for compliance and as a result the recycling fervour gave birth to a bi-weekly collection of household waste rather that the previous weekly system. Some councils however chose the “alternative arrangements”. Several, mostly in the south east decided to export their rubbish by selling it to contractors based in the Far East a sort of “Out of sight, out of mind” strategy. For a while it seemed the cheaper option but rubbish from the UK is now causing a problem on the other side of the world as a result. Most of the rubbish was exported to Indonesia and China for what was euphemistically termed as “Processing”. The “Processing” was purported to involve feeding the rubbish into power station furnaces to destroy it, providing heat from which power could be generated. The reality turned to nightmare when it was discovered that the rubbish was being dumped in the South China Sea it was then being carried by the currents into the Central Pacific Ocean and creating a floating whirlpool of discarded plastic debris to the north of Hawaii right in the middle of a conservation area newly designated by the USA. The added impediment was that not all of the rubbish was being dumped at sea; some was used in Indonesia for landfill the very problem that caused its exportation to begin with. The out of sight out of mind culture that the rubbish was created by now faced another problem. In order to perpetrate crimes involving “Identity theft” all that any would be criminal needs to know is fourteen separate pieces of information that can be extracted from utility bills, junk mail and discarded documents of many kinds. That information was found by several journalists/investigators upon a cursory inspection of not one but several landfill sites in both China and Indonesia. It might be thought that even if it were to be found then no one would know how to utilise it but that is not the case. Information trawled from those landfill sites has been used to acquire UK passports, driving licences and visas, loans have been arranged on the strength of it and credit cards supplied. The information has been collected and sold on to criminal elements in India/China and the UK.
The legacy of a once ”Throw away” culture is the haunting prospect that it is no longer safe to throw away that piece of junk mail in case it contains something that can be used to create another “You” one you are unaware of but one who is very aware of you.
The EEC claim that Britons throw away more than twice their bodyweight in household rubbish has brought an added level of sanction, not only can local authorities expect a charge to be levied from their own central government for dumping rubbish on landfill sites but the EEC also penalises them for the same offence. The bi-weekly collection of household waste was intended to slow down the river of refuse thrown out by recycling as much as possible thus reducing the volume and conserving resources that would otherwise be lost however recyclable refuse is not the only refuse thrown out. Much of the average rubbish bin contains discarded food, some a bi-product of modern living that thrives upon “Fast food”, “Junk food” and some derived from a requirement upon the food retailers to mark food with an “Eat by date” or “Best before date” there is little or nothing wrong with the discarded food apart from the date but the retailers in the UK have their customers well trained.
There is enough food thrown away in the UK to feed a small African country but the householder frequently throws it away simply because it bears the wrong date. In the days when there was a weekly collection of refuse it was a scandalous waste but it posed no specific problem but when the collections were stretched to two weeks that food began to decay inside the rubbish bins giving rise to unsavoury odour and attracting vermin. Many householders became worried by the obvious health hazards and arranged private collections of their refuse by contractors. In some cases they are paying 90/month to have it collected, that same service is included and charged for in every household rate levied annually by the local authority. In short they charge for a service which for the most part they have reduced by 50% and in some cases do not provide at all.

The government in the UK have been pretending more toward the “Green Culture” with every day that passes but whilst they are vociferous on issues of “Global Warming”, their policies are a paradox. The recycling of waste was but one small part of a much bigger picture and whilst they did force the law through parliament they have done little to convince “Joe Citizen” that the reduction of the “Greenhouse effect” is achievable. Little wonder then the reaction of the average UK “Man in the street” to what he is being told he must do by a government that does not seem to be doing it is “What difference can we make?”
The pictures on TV screens of Beijing and Shanghai show vast cities being consumed by atmospheric pollution that covers everything leaving only a barely discernable outline to betray the fact that there is a city there at all. Compare that vision with present day London and it is easy to appreciate the despondency felt. The authorities in Beijing know that a problem exists and say that in order to improve the air quality there in time for the Olympic games they intend to exclude all vehicles from the city for two years. The mistake of China is as the mistake of the UK government, both seem to think that pollution can be solved by some miraculous five-year plan, it can not. The only way is a sustained assault upon a gigantic problem that could and probably will take many years.
The proof is on the Streets of London today. Fifty years ago London had the same problems that now afflict Shanghai and Beijing. London had a problem that was perhaps worse than the images seen today. It was a low lying city built in a river basin and it had an industrial past that had steadily increased air pollution to a point where when a fog descended it was of such density that it killed people who had difficulty breathing, the fogs of Old London often lasted for days and contained carcinogenic particulates in unimaginable quantities. The Fogs later called the “Smog” had existed for many years but in the late 1950/early 1960’s parliament placed a law upon the statute books called The Clean Air Act. Many of the causes of the “Smog’s” were addressed or eradicated and frequency of the Smog’s began to subside. Today it is rare for fog to afflict London.

The photographs of the London of 1950 and of Beijing and Shanghai today are so similar that all three could have been taken at the same time and in the same country, the UK. It took almost fifty years to remove the Smog but it did happen.

So when the “Man in the street” asks “What difference can we make” the answer might well be “Every difference in the world” we began a long time ago before anyone had heard of the “Greenhouse effect” all that we knew then was we could not breathe and we could not see where we were going, now we can.


Posted: August 22, 2007 

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