Poynted remarks

IssueJune - July 2024
Comment by Claire Poyner

Look, I realise that recycling won’t save the world and all.

Personally, I usually (nearly always) put stuff that can be recycled in the recycling bins even though we have to go to the effort of taking them 100 metres or so to the communal bins on our estate (rather than the doorstep collection enjoyed by people not living on a social housing estate).

I add random plastic bags to the supermarket bags to be collected by the grocery delivery people.

I take dead batteries to a local Tesco which has a collection bin.

I have friends who are so keen on recycling that, before there were collection bins by their block of flats, they used to take cans and plastic bottles into Central London to deposit in one of the bins on Oxford Street.

I have other friends who joined the Green Party to help persuade their council to order recycling facilities, and reusable beer glasses at the annual music festival (successfully!).

The bins on our estate are obviously well-used – to the extent that if you take your recycling to the bins the day before a collection (twice a week), you’ll be lucky to find space to dump your stuff.

I do worry about what happens to the recycling. Is it shipped halfway around the world? Is it dumped in landfill? Does slave labour in some countries sort our rubbish?

One thing is for sure: if you put cans and bottles in the bin destined for landfill or the incinerator, that is where it will end up and it won’t ever be recycled.

However, seeing a torn rubbish bag strewn across our road yesterday morning (probably local foxes dragged it out of the open-topped paladin bins), I couldn’t help notice that much of that rubbish could easily have been taken around the corner (ten seconds at most) to go in the recycling. Grrrr, I thought, one of those Marge Simpson growls I mentioned in my last column.

But how much better it would be if, instead of recycling, more reusing was possible. Remember paying a deposit on a bottle of pop? I remember the Corona van delivering bottles of lemonade and mum leaving the bottles out to be reused (I presume Corona reused them). Milk always came in reusable glass bottles.

In Berlin, most glass and plastic bottles have a deposit on them. The usual procedure, for those in the know, is to leave empties beneath the street rubbish bins. People who are hard-up (and there are many homeless in Berlin despite the comparative cheapness of renting, at least compared to London) collect them to get the deposit.

I was thinking about this when, just today, I saw a delivery driver arrive at the local photography studios with a trolley fully loaded with small bottles of water. Another ‘grrr’ from me.

Not a tank for the water cooler, not even two- or four-litre bottles. Individual bottles. Which could end up in general rubbish.

Of course, the company should provide drinking water, but it does not have to be individual bottles. It does not even have to be water provided in any sort of plastic bottles, seeing as the water that comes out of the tap is perfectly drinkable (perhaps not in South Devon, currently, but the privatisation of water supplies has a lot to answer for).

Time to ban individual plastic bottles and increase the places to refill your reusable bottle.

Better to reduce than recycle? Obviously. Hence, as a household, we only use reusable cloth shopping bags rather than those ‘bag for life’ shoppers which are still plastic. There’s one stuck in a tree on our estate.

Recycling won’t save the world. But most of us are not in a position to make major changes. There’s a very long waiting list for an allotment where I live. Many cannot afford to shop at ‘Farmers’ Markets’ for loose fresh local fruit and veg.

Those of us who rent cannot put a solar panel on our roof, or get a heat pump installed. Some cannot even persuade the landlord to get their home properly insulated.

If the nearest reachable shop only sells pre-packaged food, that’s what people will purchase.

Those working long shifts with multiple jobs to get by are probably not wanting to be shopping around and buying food to cook from scratch. All this restricts our ability to reduce waste.

But, still, recycling is something we can all do. Can’t we?

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