OPINION: Linda Vijeh talks rubbish

I AM passionate about rubbish. I hate it with a vengeance.

I have been known, often taking my life in my hands, to chase people down the road for littering, or photographing moving vehicles when I see litter being thrown out of windows.

There can be no doubt that over many centuries human beings have done their level best to destroy the very planet upon which we rely for our existence, and the future lives of the generations that follow.

I am all for trying to halt the downward trend, but I am increasingly frustrated that the onus continues to be on us, as consumers, to play the biggest part in reversing the negative effects of our presence.

The vast majority of the waste that is produced is down to the excess packaging generated by supermarkets, where most of us shop. With the advent of the pandemic, and many people switching to online purchasing, this has been exacerbated.

With the proposed changes here in Somerset, general household waste will only be collected once every three weeks, which I think is unacceptable.

The introduction of the ‘blue bag’ scheme means that each household will now have five different receptacles for waste. The big question is, where to store them? I live in a flat with a kitchen that measures just 6ft x 9ft. No one seems to be able to provide an answer to that.

No small matter is the cost of the water used to rinse out containers before disposing of them. Just as well we do not live in a drought-ridden area of the world.

In addition to this, apart from the unsightly weekly scenes outside our homes, how cost effective can it be to have lorries going from house to house, collecting and sorting waste?

In many places is Europe there are collective bins sited at the end of streets, which are emptied daily.

What is not happening here is for supermarkets to be forced to play their part. I can see no reason why they cannot have Argos type counters dedicated to receiving bottles, plastic etc; the majority of it came from them after all. This could be combined with an incentive for shoppers to return items in exchange for a small discount or voucher. I am all for ‘reward’ rather than penalties.

For as long as I can remember, ‘drug’ stores in the USA have all had machines where cans can be redeemed for 5c. As a result, you never, ever find them left lying on the street; because they have a value. Now in my 60s, I also recall the ‘Corona man’ who would provide refunds on returned empty bottles of pop.

While I was one of those who voted to leave the EU, I am frustrated that during all of our years of our membership we seem to have learnt very little from each other.

A quick look at some statistics shows that when it comes to waste disposal and recycling there is a lot we could have learnt.

In Denmark almost half of their waste is recycled, with leftover rubbish being sent to incinerator plants, where it’s burned and used to heat homes. They even have a super-clean waste-to-energy plant that can convert 440,000 tons of waste into clean energy every year, which also serves the unexpected dual purpose of being a ski slope and activity centre for the city’s residents to enjoy.

Sweden has a long-running bottle recycling scheme, where people can drop off their empty glass and plastic bottles and cans at ‘reverse vending machines’, which give out vouchers in return. In fact, Sweden has now prohibited the sale of any bottles or cans that are not part of the scheme.

Switzerland has also long been ahead of the curve when it comes to recycling. In the 1990s, it introduced the ‘polluter pays’ principle, where people are taxed on rubbish bags in order to incentivise recycling. The scheme doubled the recycling rate in 20 years, and 96% of their glass bottles are recycled, well above the EU average of 73%.

In Amsterdam, the ‘Wasted’ scheme rewards citizens that recycle plastic with tokens, which can be redeemed for discounts at local shops and businesses. Also, Dutch company EverUse recycles paper and turns it into insulation materials for housing.

Germany leads the way with 66.1% of its waste being recycled. Citizens do the sorting themselves, into six different bins, which reduces the amount of money the government has to spend on sorting, as well as reducing contamination. German law makes companies responsible for making their packaging reusable or recyclable, operating under a ‘polluter pays’ principle, and all recyclable items are marked with a recognisable green dot.

Further afield, Singapore’s high recycling rates owe a debt to informal recyclers – known as karung guni. They collect around 20% of all household recyclable waste. These informal collectors visit households and pick up all types of recyclable waste, including electronics, which they sell on to dealers and recycling companies.

I have nothing but admiration for our waste collectors, but in looking for a long-term solution we really must think outside the box.

Linda Vijeh

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