The Revolution will be Recycled

Recycling735Get ready… Can you hear it coming? By the end of October the wheelie bins of High Wycombe will no longer be collected every week. It moves to fortnightly. It is no secret and every household should have received a notification pack in the post. Woe betide anyone who simply throws it in the bin. And what I can hear coming are the howls of complaint. It starts as a low whistle – like a distant express train, but I am sure it will grow to a deafening crescendo in the coming months. Welcome to the revolution. This revolution doesn’t require the erection of barricades, but it will come with lots of little boxes.

Now to find out this fascinating fact you actually have to drill down to the second sentence of the third paragraph of the letter they send you. It is repeated again in several places on the leaflets they Wycombe District Council will send you. It is no secret but there is no fanfare either. It is bound to be controversial – a matter to which I shall return.

So what is the raison d’etre for the change? Well the rubbish service is being scaled-back and replaced by a much expanded kerbside recycling service. Take my neighbourhood as an example. We have a black wheelie bin and two small plastic boxes for kerbside collection of paper, tins, foil and plastic bottles. Everything else either has to be taken to a recycling centre, ie, glass, textiles, batteries, etc, or (most likely) it gets dumped in the black wheelie bin for landfill.

From the Autumn 2013 all this changes. Wycombe District Council (and Chiltern District Council) will supply new containers to collect your food waste, garden trimmings, plastics, aerosols, foil glass, tetra packs, paper, textiles, batteries, etc, etc. The only things that need go to landfill now are nappies, cat litter, pet bedding, plastic bags, toothpaste tubes, crisp packets, polystyrene, broken crockery, shredded paper & so on.

Of course this is all good but we have a couple of observations (if not exact criticisms): firstly the roll-out of food and garden trimming collections makes no mention of the GREATER desirability of home composting. Bucks County Council has invested greatly in their Love Food Hate Waste program as well as the Master Composting courses. These initiatives are designed to ensure that re-usable “waste” never leaves our neighbourhoods let alone our kitchens. The new recycling scheme makes NO mention of these.

Now we don’t expect for one moment that the new system will deter the dedicated composter or encourage food to be wasted. Certainly it is better to capture these and re-use them SOMEWHERE. Obviously the best place is at home. The systems of, what-we-might-call, “local resilience”, ie, recycling in your own home, feature NOWHERE in the publicity. This is a missed opportunity and creates the opposite narrative to the one delivered by County Hall in Aylesbury. Is it too much to ask for these dots to be joined up? It smacks a little of the nanny state as it suggests; “don’t worry – we’ll do everything for you“. Currently the District Council Waste Services appear to not be linked to the Bucks County Council Sustainability services. Talk about mixed messages. However this remains a relatively trivial issue of missed opportunities.

Our second concern is the enormous complexity of the new system. You will need a PhD in ‘wastology’ to deconstruct the dizzying array of new over-layed recycling streams. You now have to remember what will be collected in which week. You will have to know what to put in which box. You will end up juggling six separate waste containers. These waste containers come in several sizes (bins, bags or sacks) and you have the option of supplying your own compostable bin liner for your snazzily-named “internal food waste caddy”. Swallow that. That doesn’t count the textile and battery collections which each have their own separate bagging system. However it took some serious scrutiny of the paperwork before we could figure out the complexity.

Waste Service have done their best to explain this to us [in writing] and they will have a series of roadshows to meet the public through August and September. There are eleven such meets-and-greets and various locations from Bourne End to Hughenden Valley. And who really wants to drive up to Downley Community Centre (the nearest to Superhome 59) on Thursday 12th September during the working day? And we are luckier than most because we recycle our own food and green waste into our own compost heap. That relieves us of three of these pesky bins.

Which does lead to a good question; where to store all these bins? Superhome 59 has a large garage and we place the recycling bins just outside the kitchen door that ajoins the garage. Even so it all takes up quite a large footprint. Even we would struggle to find the extra space for the three new bins. Our solution is simple: we will ask the Council NOT to give the bins to us. We don’t need them: we’re home composters! However we can imagine most people simply leaving the bins outside in a big pile to be blown around the streets of Wycombe during the next big storm.. But surely the system must work? It is used elsewhere is it not? So we must suck it and see, or grin and bear it.

Which leads us neatly onto controversy. All of this is a wonderful new dawn of recycling utopia – if it works. The first problem is an obvious one. You can read it in the leaflet they send: “if the wrong material is placed in your waste bin, it will not be emptied until the items are removed.”. The leaflet also tells us that the black wheelie bin for landfill must have its lid shut and no waste left on top or alongside in bags will be collected. All your waste MUST fit inside your bin or it will not be collected.

This is how it could easily unravel. I am sure we could all point at neighbours (or indeed ourselves) who currently pack their wheelie bin to the brim and let it over-flow. I regularly drive down the A40 on the morning commute and can see rows upon rows of such bins. All this will have to end come the glorious revolution. People are in for a serious shock. It is not that we can’t do it. It is that we are not used to it. Are we ready to change, people?

None of this is new. These sort of policies are already enforced in such places as Bournemouth where we took a family holiday one year. Likewise the collection of such items as tetra packs has been underway for many years in such places as Babergh District Council in South Suffolk. In many respect Wycombe is light-years behind other parts of Britain and Britain is light-years behind other parts or Europe. But we are a conservative town of conservative people and we don’t like change.

Take an example of Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles who in November 2012 stated that it was a “basic right” for people to put a chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected. Despite European and UK Government directives to increase recycling Mr Pickles actually allocated (as in “attempted to piss away”) £250 million of taxpayer’s money in an attempt to bribe Councils into bring back weekly rubbish collection. However, by February this year (as reported in the Telegraph) Pickles had thrown in the towel: “a briefing paper for MPs found that councils are unlikely to be returning to traditional waste collection systems in future.” Even central Government can no longer push water up hill. The fortnightly rubbish collection system is here to stay. Never has a central Government ever been so completely out of touch with every day realities. It is hard not to laugh.

So, from the Autumn 2013 this reality lands in High Wycombe. You can just imagine the howls of complaint on the letters page of the Bucks Free Press. All written by well meaning people for whom this waste-apocalypse is akin to having their street lights switched off to save energy & light-pollution. We don’t like change. But spare a thought for the heroic souls at Waste Services who have to implement this new system. It isn’t going to be easy. So let’s NOT make life hard for them. Let’s make this work. Why not?

If you know anyone elderly, with disabilities, or friends who struggle to understand English, please help them to understand the changes. Be a good neighbour where you can. Embrace the new system and talk to people about it at your Youth Club, Church, Library, Pub, Golf Club, where-ever.

The bottom-line is that if you wish to really make this easy for your household then the best thing to do is to ensure that no recycling ever needs to leave your home. Hence simply home-compost or avoid waste. Get some Tupperware for the fridge and learn to love leftovers. That way you can avoid half of these freakin bins in the first place.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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