Let’s talk rubbish!

Christmas tree

Imagine if we adults would get stuff too!

Christmas is over, hallelujah! And what a gift orgy it was again. Mind you, in my family only the kids get presents, we others just enjoy their excitement, great food and spending time together. Still, with parcels arriving from grandparents, great-grandparents, godparents as well as aunts and uncles, not to mention our own little share in our offspring’s spoiling, the space under our dinky Christmas tree was getting scarce.

But I am not going to get into a rant about this overabundance’s possible negative repercussions for the little monster’s character development. Instead I wanted to talk rubbish.

I hate rubbish. “Yeah,” I hear you say “who doesn’t?” The point is, I also make an effort to avoid it.

To be precise, I am a bit of a compulsive recycler.

And why not? It’s good for the environment, it doesn’t take much effort, and it does actually save us money. So why don’t more people here do it?

The other day I couldn’t help but gather photographic evidence. Take a look at this here:


Gives the term visual aesthetics a whole new meaning

On the left, our ‘little’ pile of rubbish/recycling. This is all the plastic (in the clear bag) and garden waste three adults and one toddler accumulate in two weeks, plus one week’s residual waste (in the black bag) which is, at least in our little town, not recyclable. On the right is what our neighbours churned out in – you guessed it from the colour of the bags – residual waste over one week. I am not entirely sure, how many people live in their household but I can tell you that their house is identical to ours (yeah, the cheerful British terraced houses), so it’s certainly not more than one family.

Unfortunately, they are not the only ones in our block who can’t be bothered to recycle or even to avoid rubbish. The little monster loves to watch the dump trucks collecting our rubbish, so whenever we hear the telltale beeping sound of a reversing lorry on Fridays, we run outside. Which means I get a pretty decent look at our neighbours’ waste disposal habits. It regularly makes me want to use alliterations! I can barely refrain from rummaging through their rubbish and remove all the recyclables. Is it so hard?!

Our council offers a rather extensive recycling scheme free of charge (other than council tax, that is). Yet every so often I can hear the clinking of glass (i.e. more than one bottle) in those black bags, and it drives me up the walls. Then there is the amount of food scraps that our residential stray cats are so fond of ripping out of the bags and scatter around. Would it be so revolting to have leftover meals every now and then?

But what I saw the other day nearly made my blood curdle: a whole black bag stuffed with empty plastic carrier bags!

I mean, apart from the fact that all the grocery stores in the area have bag collection bins (and presumably recycle the bags too), why on earth do you island monkeys have to squander these things like there was no tomorrow?!

Whenever I go grocery shopping, I either have the little monster’s pram with its generous shopping basket underneath, my backpack, my bicycle basket or, in the rare cases that I use the car, a collapsible crate on me. Only every once in a blue moon I am compelled to use one of the free plastic bags all the retailers offer, and these I always reuse as bin liners.

Maybe I’m just shopping in the wrong place, but at ASDA, part of the WalMart family, which happens to be my food store of choice because I can walk there within 10 minutes, I am always looked at with incredulity at the checkout when I reject the wad of plastic bags shoved into my direction in the assumption I’d use them like pretty much everyone else. But then the same happens on a regular basis in high street shops as well. I am eyeballed like a unicorn when I ask to put whatever it is I am buying into my backpack without the free shop advertisement plastic bag to protect it from, well, my backpack. Urgh!

Seriously, people, plastic bags are bad! Where I come from, hardly anyone carries home their grocery shopping in single-use plastic bags. Mainly because they cost money. Funny how a marginal fee of 10 cents per bag can coax people into not forgetting to take their jute bags when they leave the house.

Not so here in the UK. In fact, 2011 has seen a fierce debate about introducing such a fee, and I recall with horror the arguments against the campaign: Not convenient, not practicable, not fair in the current economic climate. Really?! As a consequence, only in Wales was a 5p charge per bag introduced. I haven’t seen any results yet but it’s expected to cut plastic use considerably.

With the exception of a very few valiant pioneers like Marks & Spencer, the rest of the UK simply continues their wasteful shopping practices. Outrageous!

Wake up, Brits, or do you really want the world to be taken over by this here species?


PS: Our Christmas tree is not made of plastic, and it came in a pot it was grown in. So I hope we can plant it outside when the season is *really* over.

18 thoughts on “Let’s talk rubbish!

  1. I have the same experience with the neighbors. I sometimes find myself wondering exactly what goes on inside some of those other houses. Our bin is barely half full and theirs is overflowing, and surrounded by a half dozen more bags on the ground. You might think it’s the result of an occasional clean-up, but no, it happens every week. As for the plastic grocery bags, the stores started charging five cents apiece for them a couple of years ago, but then they stopped. Some money, I imagine, changed hands with that policy reversal — and it was no doubt more than five cents.

    Great post, Sandra. Happy New Year!

    • I am glad there are others out there who share my sentiment. Although I have to say, in this one instance I would have preferred to be the only one with such experiences.
      I couldn’t conceive why anyone would spend money to have a sensible policy like that reversed – other than the plastic bag industry of course. So they are holding on for dear life to a business that is based on nearly repleted resources. Are we the only ones who find that disturbing?
      Thank you for your comment, Charles, and a very Happy New Year to you, too.

  2. Sandra, this is a wonderful post and mocumentary. With your permission, I would like to reblog it for my own readers. We can’t emphasize these issues enough, it seems. Like you and Charles, I am always dumbfounded by the accumulation of crap that oozes from the oversized bins of my neighbors. Some of the recycle…and those bins, too, are usually overflowing…often with items that are visibly NOT allowed, meaning their contribution to the recycle effort has degraded the outcome. I am only one person (with sometimes a friend) and most of my neighbors are 2 or 3 people per house. Yet I have the smallest bins allowed and I often go several weeks without even putting them out for pickup. And I never fill them.

    I admire Germany’s stance on environmental issues. A dear friend of mine has been with Gruenepunkt since its inception. Do you recognize that? I think their work has been critical to leading Germany and the rest of Europe into a greener way of living.

    • Oooh, that’s another sore spot you’re touching there, Linda. Our recycling bags are clear, so all too often I can clearly see the paper in the plastic collection and vice versa. I mean, it’s not rocket science!
      Der Grüne Punkt (The green dot) does have its hiccups but on a fundamental level, yes, it has greatly contributed to the advancements in recycling in Germany. I do not miss a lot of things about Germany, but this is certainly one of them.
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I would be honoured if you would reblog this post. Let’s spread the word as far as we can, maybe one day those neighbours will see the errs of their ways.

  3. Reblogged this on Rangewriter and commented:
    I’ve never used the Reblog feature before…I wonder what will happen. My intention is to Reblog Sandra Parson’s excellent post about rubbish. Like Sandra, I believe we can’t overstate the need to control our impulsive urges to toss. I hope this works.

  4. Here in Wales, well at least in the part where I live, the big supermarkets give away Jute bags, and for a long time (they may still do it – I don’t do the shopping, my husband does), they gave away a huge bag called ‘bag for life’ that could be reused for a long long time. I can’t remember the last time I saw a plastic bag in our house. I also don’t understand why someone would throw away a binbag full of them – how stupid… they can so easily be recycled in themselves.

    The waste that really fills up bags, though, is the containers that food comes in, from the supermarkets. My husband said that the government is talking about taking some action about that – if they do, it’s about time.

    • You raise some very good points here, Val. Yes, the bags for life are available at stores here, too. But since they cost money while the cheap, flimsy ones don’t, not enough people take advantage of this offer. Plus, they are huge, so nothing you would want to keep in your handbag when you go to work just in case you need to grab some groceries on your way home.
      And I agree on the food packaging from the supermarkets that is probably the main culprit in my neighbors huge waste output. Although, here in Colchester, all cardboard as well as plastic trays and bottles can be recycled – if you make the effort.
      And I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much about something politicians are talking about. I would be very surprised if these talks would result in anything anytime soon. Regrettably so.

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  6. I’m the same way about recycling every possible thing. I have irrational guilt when I don’t.

    One of the great things we’ve done where I live (Oregon), is the dump has employees who sort through everything that comes in for things that can be recycled – plastics, computers, organic debris, everything.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one whose religion is recycling 😉 Sometimes I feel it’s not quirky anymore but worrisome on a clinical level. But then I remember that I’m just making up for my lazy-ass neighbours when I remove the little clear plastic window in the cardboard pasta package to recycle both separately.
      Looks like Oregon, one out of 23 states that I haven’t visited yet, has a very sensible job creation programme. Hmmm, Oregon just showed up on my list of places yet to see.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Byron, and Happy New Year.

  7. The amount of garbage we dispense is unprecedented. Here’s a picture of garbage pile from last winter when pickup was delayed due to snow.

    Plastic surcharge can help to some extent; the question is how much so that it gets people’s attention. I US we have 5cent recycling fee per can or bottle. Most people ignore collecting the 5 cents & toss the cans/bottles in garbage but the can collectors pick them and take it to recycling centers to make good 20 bucks a day. Not sure that can be effectively implemented for bags.

    • I agree, Yatin. The bag fee is not so much a deposit as a kind of avoidance tax. Much like alcohol or cigarettes are artificially made more expensive by imposing a tax in the hopes that it will deter people from overindulging. This, of course somehow forgets the addiction factor, and I daresay there is a good amount of addiction involved in the way we insist on the convenience of using plastic.
      Thank you for your comment and the link. Hope to see you back soon.

  8. This was so funny and educational, especially the video. They are just now going to start charging 10 cents for bags around my area, hopefully that will help to remind people as it does in Germany. Cheers!

  9. As you read from my latest post, you definitely wouldn’t want to come to my house..which thankfully is across a very large ocean. We allegedly have 2 bins – 1 large one for garbage and 1 for recycling. But in reality, they are just 2 garbage cans for me…whichever one has the least amount of stuff in it, is where I put whatever I’m throwing out.

    • Oooh, you are bad! I wonder how your wife puts up with you!
      Having said that, you, Mr Rubin, are entertaining, so I forgive you. I suppose that’s what your wife does, too.
      PS: Don’t let the ocean between us lull you into a false sense of security, I am a huuuge traveller (and that’s not my waist I’m talking) who has been to your fair country various times. If you don’t promise to behave from now on I might pop in personally one day and team up with your wife!

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