John Knight’s Ashfield District Council column: Lets cut down on waste

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This week I want to talk rubbish. Yes I know, when did I ever speak anything else? I get it! However the rubbish I am referring to is the type we throw away in ever increasing amounts whilst all the time demanding ever more sophisticated levels of service from our Council to dispose of it.

Let’s face it; refuse collection is something we all take for granted. We wheel the bin out once a week and by the time we get home in the early evening the rubbish has been miraculously emptied, never to trouble us again.

But just stop and think about two things for a moment. Who collects it and where does it all go?

The first bit is easy. Your humble Council bin men or “Refuse Disposal Operatives” to give them their upmarket moniker.

Bin men often get a bad press, unfairly in my view as they provide a great service.

Out in all weathers, trying to back down narrow Victorian streets not built for a single car let alone a six tonne lorry, freezing in winter and boiling in summer.

Despite the odd hic cup they perform this arduous task efficiently, quietly and politely throughout the year.

A fact I don’t doubt they will be reminding you of in the run up to Christmas!

But the real issue for me is the second question and the way the Government increasingly expects Councils to up their recycling rates for not just the amount, but also for the types of rubbish we now dispose of.

Less than thirty years ago no one thought of recycling waste. Why? Put simply because most of us were too poor to throw much away! Many older bin men tell me that the biggest component of the old corrugated bin was not rubbish or food waste but the ubiquitous coal ash that was scrapped from everyone’s hearths every morning.

This was the generation of make do and mend. My grandfather had the same knife and fork throughout his life. NAAFI issue, and brought back from Tobruk, even when the middle prong snapped he refused to throw it away! He was not untypical of his generation, and he would be baffled today by the recycling of not just food waste but plastic, cardboard, glass, metal and the multitude of other household detritus that is the residue of today’s affluent consumer driven lifestyle.

I am not decrying this. In fact I think the way most families now recycle automatically is one of the great social advances of our age.

Recycling stops us having to dump in landfill sites, which of course helps reduce methane emissions, one of the fundamental causes of global warming.

So my issue is not with the collection and recycling of our rubbish, which we do well in Ashfield, but with the production of it in the first place. It strikes me that successive Governments have got hold of the wrong end of the stick in expecting Councils to provide ever more sophisticated recycling services.

Surely they should be concentrating policy on the major retailers, distributors and manufacturers at source, the ones who produce the vast majority of our refuse in the first place?

If you think I am exaggerating, do me a favour. At Easter when you buy the kids their egg, take it out of the packaging and put it to one side.

My guess is you will have a small hollow piece of chocolate the size of a fist and ten small buttons the size of a thumb nail. But the packaging it came in? Enough plastic and cardboard to build a new shed! Now times that by millions throughout the UK, on just one day a year and you will get my drift.

So let’s have a new way of thinking about production, marketing and packaging not just about recycling, otherwise it doesn’t matter how sophisticated we become about our waste, it’s all going to end up needing to be buried or burnt. We need to move away from a throwaway society that worries about how we are going to dispose of waste to one that actively prevents it in the first place.