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Vocapedia > Earth > Environment > Waste > Plastic

 

 

 

 

How to stop plastic getting into the ocean        Video        The Economist        30 April 2020

 

Plastic pollution poses a major threat to ocean life.

 

Meet the engineers

who are using rubbish-guzzling boats to stem the flow at its source.

 

YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7EdgCxFZ8Q

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plastic pollution: 'We've lost the battle on the beaches'        G        29 August 2019

 

 

 

 

Plastic pollution: 'We've lost the battle on the beaches'        Video        The Guardian        29 August 2019

 

After four years of leading volunteer beach cleans

in the west of Wales,

Alan Cookson is quitting

because of the insurmountable plastic problem

around Britain’s coastlines.

 

We join him as he leads his last beach clean to find out

why he believes we need to change our approach

in the fight against plastic pollution

 

YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHMiMQK2eng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plastic in paradise: the battle for the Galápagos Islands' future        G         3 April 2019

 

 

 

 

Plastic in paradise: the battle for the Galápagos Islands' future        Video        The Guardian        3 April 2019

 

The Galápagos Islands

are supposedly one of the most

pristine locations on the planet,

but plastic pollution arriving by sea

is threatening this unique habitat and wildlife.

 

Leah Green travels to the islands to see

how our reliance on plastic

is affecting even the most remote of locations,

and to see how the archipelago

is hoping to lead the worldwide fight against plastic

 

YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS8IBxi2xJE

 

Related

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2019/apr/02/
plastic-in-paradise-drowning-darwin-galapagos-islands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The humble, horrible plastic bag        The Economist        2 October 2015

 

 

 

 

The humble, horrible plastic bag        Video        The Economist        2 October 2015

 

Over a trillion plastic bags are used every year.

Does charging for them help?

 

YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsOZhJIpkFU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

packaging        UK

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/
uks-holiday-waste-smashes-all-records-1213858.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wrapping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/2021/07/12/
1015296355/zero-waste-single-use-plastic-trash-recycle

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/06/
science/plastics-polymers-pollution.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

polysterene        UK

 

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/mar/04/
polystyrene-to-be-phased-out-next-year-under-australias-plastic-waste-plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic pollution        UK

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/12/
clothes-washing-linked-to-pervasive-plastic-pollution-in-the-arctic

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/02/
the-women-taking-the-plastic-out-of-periods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic pollution in the arctic        UK

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/12/
clothes-washing-linked-to-pervasive-plastic-pollution-in-the-arctic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic polluters        UK

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/07/
coca-cola-pepsi-and-nestle-named-top-plastic-polluters-for-third-year-in-a-row

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic trash        USA

containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups

 

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/
897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

marine plastic        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/01/26/
688168838/how-teenage-sisters-pushed-bali-to-say-bye-bye-to-plastic-bags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

used plastic shopping bag        USA

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/
sunday-review/should-america-bag-the-plastic-bag.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic bag        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/01/26/
688168838/how-teenage-sisters-pushed-bali-to-say-bye-bye-to-plastic-bags

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/08/23/
641215873/attention-shoppers-kroger-says-it-is-phasing-out-plastic-bags

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/26/us/
plastic-bags-come-under-siege-in-california.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/
opinion/the-uses-and-abuses-of-plastic-bags.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/sunday-review/
should-america-bag-the-plastic-bag.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic litter        USA

 

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/08/18/
544456726/trump-administration-reverses-bottled-water-ban-in-national-parks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic trash        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/24/
627505327/meet-the-woman-who-put-plastic-waste-on-the-map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dump        UK

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/22/
chris-packham-joins-fight-to-end-uks-embarrassing-plastic-waste-exports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic pollution        UK

 

https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=hHMiMQK2eng - video - G - 29 August 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic pollution > oceans        UK

How to stop plastic getting into the ocean

Video        The Economist        30 April 2020

YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=D7EdgCxFZ8Q

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic pollution > oceans        USA

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2019/apr/02/
plastic-in-paradise-drowning-darwin-galapagos-islands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic pollution > oceans        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/01/26/
688168838/how-teenage-sisters-pushed-bali-to-say-bye-bye-to-plastic-bags

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/01/05/
682532583/an-engineering-wunderkinds-ocean-plastics-cleanup-device-hits-a-setback

 

 

 

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/11/
646724291/a-massive-floating-boom-is-supposed-to-clean-up-the-pacific-can-it-work

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/09/
recycling-plastic-crisis-oceans-pollution-corporate-responsibility

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic straws        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/07/30/
634086689/bubble-tea-sellers-say-plastic-straw-ban-won-t-be-good-for-business

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/22/
631254978/one-childs-outsized-influence-on-the-debate-over-plastic-waste

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic waste        UK

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/plastic

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/22/
chris-packham-joins-fight-to-end-uks-embarrassing-plastic-waste-exports

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/29/
new-rules-to-tackle-wild-west-of-plastic-waste-dumped-on-poorer-countries

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/30/
henderson-island-the-pacific-paradise-groaning-under-18-tonnes-of-plastic-waste

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/23/
uks-plastic-waste-may-be-dumped-overseas-instead-of-recycled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic waste        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/30/
744099949/plastics-or-people-at-least-1-of-them-has-to-change-to-clean-up-our-mess

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/09/
735848489/plastic-has-a-big-carbon-footprint-but-that-isnt-the-whole-story

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/01/15/
683734379/an-island-crusader-takes-on-the-big-brands-behind-plastic-waste

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic waste pollution        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/2021/07/12/
1015296355/zero-waste-single-use-plastic-trash-recycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

plastic waste > carbon footprint        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/09/
735848489/plastic-has-a-big-carbon-footprint-but-that-isnt-the-whole-story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

waste plastics in the environment > clothes >  tiny fibers        USA

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/
opinion/sunday/what-comes-out-in-the-wash.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tiny plastic / microplastics        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/06/06/
729419975/microplastics-have-invaded-the-deep-ocean-and-the-food-chain

 

 

 

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/10/22/
659568662/microplastics-are-turning-up-everywhere-even-in-human-excrement

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/08/20/
636845604/beer-drinking-water-and-fish-tiny-plastic-is-everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dumped        UK

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/29/
new-rules-to-tackle-wild-west-of-plastic-waste-dumped-on-poorer-countries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

recycling plastic        USA

 

https://apps.npr.org/plastics-recycling/

 

 

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/
897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corpus of news articles

 

Earth > Environment > Waste > Plastic

 

 

 

Going Green

but Getting Nowhere

 

September 7, 2011

The New York Times

By GERNOT WAGNER

 

YOU reduce, reuse and recycle. You turn down plastic and paper.

You avoid out-of-season grapes. You do all the right things.

Good.

Just know that it won’t save the tuna, protect the rain forest or stop global warming. The changes necessary are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action.

You refuse the plastic bag at the register, believing this one gesture somehow makes a difference, and then carry your takeout meal back to your car for a carbon-emitting trip home.

Say you’re willing to make real sacrifices. Sell your car. Forsake your air-conditioner in the summer, turn down the heat in the winter. Try to become no-impact man. You would, in fact, have no impact on the planet. Americans would continue to emit an average of 20 tons of carbon dioxide a year; Europeans, about 10 tons.

What about going bigger? You are the pope with a billion followers, and let’s say all of them take your advice to heart. If all Catholics decreased their emissions to zero overnight, the planet would surely notice, but pollution would still be rising. Of course, a billion people, whether they’re Catholic or adherents of any other religion or creed, will do no such thing. Two weeks of silence in a Buddhist yoga retreat in the Himalayas with your BlackBerry checked at the door? Sure. An entire life voluntarily lived off the grid? No thanks.

And that focuses only on those who can decrease their emissions. When your average is 20 tons per year, going down to 18 tons is as easy as taking a staycation. But if you are among the four billion on the planet who each emit one ton a year, you have nowhere to go but up.

Leading scientific groups and most climate scientists say we need to decrease global annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least half of current levels by 2050 and much further by the end of the century. And that will still mean rising temperatures and sea levels for generations.

So why bother recycling or riding your bike to the store? Because we all want to do something, anything. Call it “action bias.” But, sadly, individual action does not work. It distracts us from the need for collective action, and it doesn’t add up to enough. Self-interest, not self-sacrifice, is what induces noticeable change. Only the right economic policies will enable us as individuals to be guided by self-interest and still do the right thing for the planet.

Every ton of carbon dioxide pollution causes around $20 of damage to economies, ecosystems and human health. That sum times 20 implies $400 worth of damage per American per year. That’s not damage you’re going to do in the distant future; that’s damage each of us is doing right now. Who pays for it?

We pay as a society. My cross-country flight adds fractions of a penny to everyone else’s cost. That knowledge leads some of us to voluntarily chip in a few bucks to “offset” our emissions. But none of these payments motivate anyone to fly less. It doesn’t lead airlines to switch to more fuel-efficient planes or routes. If anything, airlines by now use voluntary offsets as a marketing ploy to make green-conscious passengers feel better. The result is planetary socialism at its worst: we all pay the price because individuals don’t.

It won’t change until a regulatory system compels us to pay our fair share to limit pollution accordingly. Limit, of course, is code for “cap and trade,” the system that helped phase out lead in gasoline in the 1980s, slashed acid rain pollution in the 1990s and is now bringing entire fisheries back from the brink. “Cap and trade” for carbon is beginning to decrease carbon pollution in Europe, and similar models are slated to do the same from California to China.

Alas, this approach has been declared dead in Washington, ironically by self-styled free-marketers. Another solution, a carbon tax, is also off the table because, well, it’s a tax.

Never mind that markets are truly free only when everyone pays the full price for his or her actions. Anything else is socialism. The reality is that we cannot overcome the global threats posed by greenhouse gases without speaking the ultimate inconvenient truth: getting people excited about making individual environmental sacrifices is doomed to fail.

High school science tells us that global warming is real. And economics teaches us that humanity must have the right incentives if it is to stop this terrible trend.

Don’t stop recycling. Don’t stop buying local. But add mastering some basic economics to your to-do list. Our future will be largely determined by our ability to admit the need to end planetary socialism. That’s the most fundamental of economics lessons and one any serious environmentalist ought to heed.

 

Gernot Wagner is an economist

at the Environmental Defense Fund

and the author of the forthcoming

“But Will the Planet Notice?”

Going Green but Getting Nowhere,
NYT,
7.9.2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/08/
opinion/going-green-but-getting-nowhere.html

 

 

 

 

 

Nudging Recycling

From Less Waste to None

 

October 20, 2009
The New York Times
By LESLIE KAUFMAN

 

At Yellowstone National Park, the clear soda cups and white utensils are not your typical cafe-counter garbage. Made of plant-based plastics, they dissolve magically when heated for more than a few minutes.

At Ecco, a popular restaurant in Atlanta, waiters no longer scrape food scraps into the trash bin. Uneaten morsels are dumped into five-gallon pails and taken to a compost heap out back.

And at eight of its North American plants, Honda is recycling so diligently that the factories have gotten rid of their trash Dumpsters altogether.

Across the nation, an antigarbage strategy known as “zero waste” is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, taking hold in school cafeterias, national parks, restaurants, stadiums and corporations.

The movement is simple in concept if not always in execution: Produce less waste. Shun polystyrene foam containers or any other packaging that is not biodegradable. Recycle or compost whatever you can.

Though born of idealism, the zero-waste philosophy is now propelled by sobering realities, like the growing difficulty of securing permits for new landfills and an awareness that organic decay in landfills releases methane that helps warm the earth’s atmosphere.

“Nobody wants a landfill sited anywhere near them, including in rural areas,” said Jon D. Johnston, a materials management branch chief for the Environmental Protection Agency who is helping to lead the zero-waste movement in the Southeast. “We’ve come to this realization that landfill is valuable and we can’t bury things that don’t need to be buried.”

Americans are still the undisputed champions of trash, dumping 4.6 pounds per person per day, according to the E.P.A.’s most recent figures. More than half of that ends up in landfills or is incinerated.

But places like the island resort community of Nantucket offer a glimpse of the future. Running out of landfill space and worried about the cost of shipping trash 30 miles to the mainland, it moved to a strict trash policy more than a decade ago, said Jeffrey Willett, director of public works on the island.

The town, with the blessing of residents concerned about tax increases, mandates the recycling of not only commonly reprocessed items like aluminum, glass and paper but also tires, batteries and household appliances.

Jim Lentowski, executive director of the nonprofit Nantucket Conservation Foundation and a year-round resident since 1971, said that sorting trash and delivering it to the local recycling and disposal complex had become a matter of course for most residents.

The complex also has a garagelike structure where residents can drop off books and clothing and other reusable items for others to take home.

The 100-car parking lot at the landfill is a lively meeting place for locals, Mr. Lentowski added. “Saturday morning during election season, politicians hang out there and hand out campaign buttons,” he said. “If you want to get a pulse on the community, that is a great spot to go.”

Mr. Willett said that while the amount of trash that island residents carted to the dump had remained steady, the proportion going into the landfill had plummeted to 8 percent.

By contrast, Massachusetts residents as a whole send an average of 66 percent of their trash to a landfill or incinerator. Although Mr. Willett has lectured about the Nantucket model around the country, most communities still lack the infrastructure to set a zero-waste target.

Aside from the difficulty of persuading residents and businesses to divide their trash, many towns and municipalities have been unwilling to make the significant capital investments in machines like composters that can process food and yard waste. Yet attitudes are shifting, and cities like San Francisco and Seattle are at the forefront of the changeover. Both of those cities have adopted plans for a shift to zero-waste practices and are collecting organic waste curbside in residential areas for composting.

Food waste, which the E.P.A. says accounts for about 13 percent of total trash nationally — and much more when recyclables are factored out of the total — is viewed as the next big frontier.

When apple cores, stale bread and last week’s leftovers go to landfills, they do not return the nutrients they pulled from the soil while growing. What is more, when sealed in landfills without oxygen, organic materials release methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, as they decompose. If composted, however, the food can be broken down and returned to the earth as a nonchemical fertilizer with no methane by-product.

Green Foodservice Alliance, a division of the Georgia Restaurant Association, has been adding restaurants throughout Atlanta and its suburbs to its so-called zero-waste zones. And companies are springing up to meet the growth in demand from restaurants for recycling and compost haulers.

Steve Simon, a partner in Fifth Group, a company that owns Ecco and four other restaurants in the Atlanta area, said that the hardest part of participating in the alliance’s zero-waste-zone program was not training his staff but finding reliable haulers.

“There are now two in town, and neither is a year old, so it is a very tentative situation,” Mr. Simon said.

Still, he said he had little doubt that the hauling sector would grow and that all five of the restaurants would eventually be waste-free.

Packaging is also quickly evolving as part of the zero-waste movement. Bioplastics like the forks at Yellowstone, made from plant materials like cornstarch that mimic plastic, are used to manufacture a growing number of items that are compostable.

Steve Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute, a nonprofit organization that certifies such products, said that the number of companies making compostable products for food service providers had doubled since 2006 and that many had moved on to items like shopping bags and food packaging.

The transition to zero waste, however, has its pitfalls.

Josephine Miller, an environmental official for the city of Santa Monica, Calif., which bans the use of polystyrene foam containers, said that some citizens had unwittingly put the plant-based alternatives into cans for recycling, where they had melted and had gummed up the works. Yellowstone and some institutions have asked manufacturers to mark some biodegradable items with a brown or green stripe.

Yet even with these clearer design cues, customers will have to be taught to think about the destination of every throwaway if the zero-waste philosophy is to prevail, environmental officials say.

“Technology exists, but a lot of education still needs to be done,” said Mr. Johnston of the E.P.A.

He expects private companies and businesses to move faster than private citizens because momentum can be driven by one person at the top.

“It will take a lot longer to get average Americans to compost,” Mr. Johnston said. “Reaching down to my household and yours is the greatest challenge.”

Nudging Recycling From Less Waste to None, NYT, 20.10.2009,
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/science/earth/20trash.html

 

 

 

 

 

UK's holiday waste

smashes all records

Christmas packaging,
millions of trees and up to a billion cards
are heading to landfill
– even though much of it could be recycled

 

Sunday, 28 December 2008
The Independent on Sunday
By Rachel Shields

 

This is a toy story, but it has no happy ending. As millions of households wade through crumpled wrapping, plastic ties and discarded boxes, the sheer weight of refuse in coming days is expected to smash all records.

Waste watchdogs warned yesterday that rubbish from the estimated 100 million toys unwrapped last week is likely to burn big holes in the ozone layer as well as in parents' pockets.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) said toy manufacturers are not putting enough information about recycling on their packaging and, as a result, most of it will be sent needlessly to landfill. Over Christmas 2008 alone, this will lead to more than 400 extra tonnes of harmful C02. The news is a blow to the Government's 2007 Waste Strategy, which aims to see 40 per cent of all household waste recycled by 2010.

A survey by Recycle Now showed that while 89 per cent of British parents with children under the age of 12 would like to recycle toy packaging, 53 per cent found it difficult to know what was suitable for recycling.

"A large proportion of the packaging material from toys is actually recyclable because it is made from paper or cardboard," said Andy Dawe, Wrap's head of retail. "It is helpful for consumers to have labelling on the types of material that make up the packaging and which of these can be recycled. It also makes a real difference if different materials can be separated. For example, where a box includes cardboard with a plastic window, it should be made as simple as possible to remove the window."

The government-funded agency is now calling on toy manufacturers to improve recycling instructions on their products, and for consumers to redouble their recycling efforts.

"It's for manufacturers, government-led organisations and consumers themselves to do this," said Natasha Crookes of the British Toy & Hobby Association (BTHA). "Seventy per cent of toy packaging is now recyclable, so it is really about getting people to recycle, especially at Christmas when everyone is busy unwrapping their presents."

British households generate 20 per cent more waste during the festive period, including one billion Christmas cards, eight million Christmas trees and 83 sq kms of wrapping paper.

Toy manufacturers are required by law to carry safety warnings on packaging, but are not obliged to include recycling instructions. The BTHA is currently drawing up new packaging guidelines that will include recycling.

Many retailers have made steps towards reducing packaging. Boots reviewed its gift sets and relaunched them this Christmas with reduced packaging. The online retailer Amazon recently launched a "frustration-free packaging" service, which reduces excess wrapping and which will begin in the UK after Christmas.

In 2007, the UK recycled 9.7 million tonnes of household waste, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year. However, some fear that the current economic downturn may lead to companies prioritising profits over their environmental obligations.

"It is vitally important that we carry on recycling," Mr Dawe said. "If we stop, all materials will go to landfill – and that is the worst possible outcome."

    UK's holiday waste smashes all records, IoS, 28.12.2008,
    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/
    uks-holiday-waste-smashes-all-records-1213858.html

 

 

 

 

 

There's no such place as away

What have you thrown out?

Torn wrapping paper,
indestructible shreds of tinsel,
the carcass of a goose ...

disgusted by her post-Christmas rubbish,
Margaret Drabble explores the horror of waste,
and sets out to discover where it all goes

 

Saturday 27 December 2008
The Guardian
Margaret Drabble
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 00.01 GMT on Saturday 27 December 2008.
It appeared in the Guardian
on Saturday 27 December 2008
on p36 of the Saturday section.
It was last updated at 02.10 GMT
on Saturday 27 December 2008.

 

There are days when I feel my only achievement has been a successful trip to the recycling centre. It's an age thing. "The waste remains, the waste remains and kills," as William Empson insisted in perhaps his best known villanelle, Missing Dates. We need to get it out of the system. At the end of the year, it weighs more heavily upon us. Christmas means rubbish, piles of rubbish. Cardboard, paper, polystyrene, bubble wrap, plastic, the withering leaves of sprouts and the scraggy bones of poultry and the scrapings of grease and the indestructible shreds of tinsel - they disgust us, they depress us. The memory of six weeks without refuse collection at the end of 1973 haunts my generation, and so does the three-day week that followed. These events brought down a government. We fear a recurrence of disaster. We fear the clogging of the arteries, the overflowing tip, the choking planet, the slow march of death.

Christmas brings horrors close to us in many ways, and garbage symbolises some of them. In our family, in the 1950s and 60s, we used to unwrap our presents carefully, fold up the shiny paper, and put it away for another time. It was not unknown for a gift to appear the following year, in old paper with a new label on, but with an inner layer bearing the name of the dead. "To Grandpa, with love." Christmas, as James Joyce knew, means epiphanies of death as well as of birth. In The Dead, John Huston's haunting film of Dublin in the snow, the most lasting image, for me, is of the carcass of a goose, picked bare.

Over the past decades, as memories of the war receded and ephemeral affluence and disposable trash swamped us, our sense of responsibility lapsed, and we became a careless throwaway society, rejoicing in excess. Global warming has at last scared some of us, and raised or revived our communal consciousness of the ever-increasing problem of waste. We moralise about it now, and wonder how to be good citizens. New bad words have entered our vocabulary, such as landfill and incineration. Combustion good, incineration bad: this is a new mantra I have just learned, as I have tried to find out what happens to our household rubbish. There is much scope for doublespeak and euphemism in the waste disposal world, as experts pursue technological solutions while trying to meet the government's targets.

I felt that if I could understand the journey of my rubbish to its final resting place, it would worry me less, though the true source of my anxiety may lie too deep to explore, as Empson knew too well. We even worry now about whether we will be allowed to opt for cremation when the time comes. Personally, I don't fancy rotting in a cardboard box under a willow tree. I'd rather fly upwards in flames. But perhaps that's an irresponsible desire.

"The complete fire is death. From partial fires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills."

These are not very festive reflections. Luckily, we can struggle against them, and find ways of making recycling fun. When bottle banks were first introduced into England, in Barnsley in 1977, they proved surprisingly popular. Cynics had prophesied apathy or vandalism, but people loved hurling away the evidence of their indulgence and hearing the crunch of the glass of their hangover. It was cathartic, it purged guilt and concealed excess, and all to a virtuous end. In Scandinavia, I was told, you used to have to pay for the pleasure of throwing away your bottles. You had to put a coin in the machine to make it open its maw. People liked that. They paid up. It made them feel better.

We have more sophisticated systems now, which address the proliferation of packaging, the incompatibility and complexity of types of plastic, and our fears of carbon emissions, methane and the indestructibility of yoghurt pots. Glass is a wholesome traditional natural substance, and most councils in Britain have got to grips with how to encourage people to do the right thing with it. (Councils love champagne bottles, because they weigh so much, and increase their valuable tonnage.) Other kinds of waste are more divisive. Next to Battersea power station (which, with its broken windows and its tall chimneys, lingers on as an all-too-photogenic emblem of pollution and dereliction) stands Cringle Dock, the penultimate home of much of the irreducible stuff that gets loaded on to barges and sent by tide power down the Thames to its final graveyard at Belvedere in Kent. Cringle Dock, Smuggler's Way - the very names of London's garbage depots are Dickensian, and the means of transport immemorial. But the river is now considered environmentally friendly - trucks are bad, barges good. I went to have a look round Cringle Dock on foot, which was a mistake, as pedestrians aren't allowed in, and neither are photographers. I was arrested and firmly sent on my way. This site is managed by the Western Riverside Waste Authority, and it can deal with general, green or inert waste, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for Christmas Day. ("Inert waste" is a concept that raises some nasty questions.) If you've nothing better to do at three in the morning, you can go and chuck your old TV, provided you don't go on foot or in a Mercedes Vito. That could be fun, too.

I am drawn to scenes of dereliction and the industrial sublime. I used to think that was because I was brought up in South Yorkshire, with its views of factory chimneys and its scatological imagery of slag heaps, but it's a common obsession. Battersea power station attracts sightseers, even on a dull wet December day. There they are, staring, sketching, taking artistic photographs.

I know that some of my waste goes to Cringle Dock. To find out how it gets there, and what happens to the rest of it, I went to talk to Peter Ramage, head of waste management for Kensington and Chelsea. He is an eloquent and at times lyrical advocate for the cause of responsible recycling, and has superintended a fine operation to clean up the streets. One of his tasks, in a high density borough, is to persuade us to sort our garbage properly: kerbside collections from the 1980s and the provision of free orange bags from 2006 spurred us on, but he says he has now hit a plateau of resistance. What to do next, to raise the borough's recycling percentage and, crucially, our trust in the process? (Some claim, to Ramage's indignation, that everything ends up in landfill anyway, which he insists isn't true.) Should institutions be fined for non-compliance? Do we need a new design of collection truck with better and more clearly differentiated compartments? (Ramage was interesting on the subject of the financial and environmental cost per truckload to tip, a matter I hadn't had to consider before, but it's high on his agenda.) Flat-dwellers may soon be issued with a smart new design of reusable orange carrier bag, in which to carry cans and cartons and aerosols down to a communal bin. I am the proud owner of an example of the prototype. Food waste remains a worry. There are relatively few private gardens in the borough, we don't produce much green waste, and not many of us have our own compost facilities into which we can pop our orange peel and egg boxes and potato peelings and old dish cloths. Some councils now provide food waste caddies. It's expensive, but maybe that's a way ahead.

My finest acquisition in 2008 was a green fox-proof beehive-shaped Swedish compost bin. I love it inordinately, which is, I know, a little sad. I had thought of composting as a Good Life mystique, a fad for those who grow their own vegetables: I hadn't realised it offered therapy and a promise of eternal life. I don't care whether it ever produces good compost; I rejoice in the satisfaction of never having to put scraps into the black bag marked Belvedere. (Belvedere is an incinerator, and as such was hated by Ken Livingstone.) I can purge my house of organic detritus of every sort, and I no longer have to feel guilty about not eating a mouldy crust. I don't believe in rejuvenating bath oils or Botox, but I do have a little faith in the virtue of reducing and redeploying waste.

Novelists are good at turning personal humiliations and losses into stories and saleable assets. They recycle and sell their shames, they turn grit into pearls. The green bin has the same magical transforming property. It turns putridity into wholesomeness. I may not live forever, but the orange peel may. It may one day fertilise the moon.

The joys of my bin led me to the Eco Park at Edmonton, from which my son Joe Swift gets compost for his Enfield allotment. Joe always speaks well of it and its produce. The site is very different from Cringle Dock, and has more ecological pretensions. Advent Way is a short ride from Tottenham Hale underground station, through the sprawling business park and supermarket belt of north-east London, next to a huge Coca-Cola plant. It's run by LondonWaste, and owned by a joint venture company whose shareholders are the North London Waste Authority and SITA UK. It handles and recycles many kinds of waste from seven London boroughs - electrical, medical, domestic, commercial, green - while its energy centre generates heat from residual waste that drives turbines to create electricity, to be fed back to the National Grid. The emphasis, stressed by its persuasive spokeswoman Wendy Lord (one of the very few women in the field) is on sustainability and reuse. Like me, Lord seems personally offended by the idea of unnecessary waste, even on the smallest scale, and is intellectually fascinated by questions about the indestructibility of matter. She is the evangelist of Advent Way. "There is no such place as away" is one of the phrases she uses. It has an almost mystic ring. Everything may have another, better life. No shame can be hidden in a bin.

Lord took me round the stages of the compost process, showing me the arrival of the trucks, the deposited mountains of unsorted garden waste, the machinery which sifts out the Coca-Cola cans and trowels and bits of broken wheelie bin from the leaves and grass cuttings and hedge trimmings, the tunnels where the waste decomposes (generating an amazing amount of heat and great clouds of steam as it does so) and the finished product, ready to set off for allotments and farms. It was an immensely satisfying tour. Even I could grasp the basic principles. A certain amount of roughage, says Wendy, is good for the mix, but too much ruins it. It's a bit like cooking. You mix up the ingredients, making sure you've got the right kind of consistency, correctly blended, and then it cooks itself with its own heat. Too many yoghurt pots ruin recycled plastic, and too many tree roots ruin compost. But a leavening of them serves the texture well.

It was a good day out, and I'm sure the school parties and MPs and environmentalists and councillors who visit the Eco Park enjoy it as much as I did. It's a pity, as Joe says, that the compost can't be bagged up and redelivered free to the householders who produced it in the first place; as yet, it can be delivered only in bulk. The circle is not yet complete, but maybe it will be one day. That would be very satisfying. On the tube home I noticed that I and my Wellington boots smelled richly of the farmyard, a healthy, organic, satisfying smell.

The Eco Park is as exciting as, and more modern than, the sewers of London, which I visited some 30 years ago, descending into them through a manhole in Piccadilly. I put them into a novel, where sewers rarely appear except as escape routes in thrillers. Visual artists are more captivated by ordure than writers, and these days seem particularly attached to sculptures made from blood, dung and urine. I don't find body-part and viscous-emission art as attractive as found art and sculptures made of driftwood or scrap metal or dustbin lids. They lack the element of thrift and therefore of salvation.

I recognise that I was driven on this search through the garbage by a personal, not a communal imperative. It's to do with the reclamation of the past, not with saving the planet of the future. At this time of year, those of my age look back, not forward. When we were little children, we made our Christmas decorations out of sweet wrappings, and strung them in paper chains along the picture rail. Sweets were precious, and so was the coloured paper that the most expensive of them came in. Alas for lost ingenuity and the treasures of Quality Street! Now I am reduced to finding my entertainment in the meticulous sorting of polythene from tinfoil, batteries from lightbulbs, anchovy tins from tomato skins, dying flowers from rubber bands. I spend time worrying about whether or not I should try to remove the plastic cap from the olive oil bottle. And so the days pass, and 12th night approaches.

Reducing my usage of plastic bags and dutifully filling my compost bin won't have a global impact. It's not the social or aesthetic principle that compels me. It's a sense of recovery, of redemption, through a repetition of the necessary little acts of hope.

 

 

 

Waste in numbers

 

One billion Christmas cards - 17 for every man, woman and child - are received each year by UK citizens. It takes one tree to produce 3,000 cards

Eight million Christmas trees are sold each year, generating about 12,000 tonnes of waste. Only one-sixth will be recycled into mulch chippings

As much as 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper will be thrown away after Christmas - enough to cover Guernsey

Nearly 3,000 tonnes of foil will have been used for roasting turkeys

Around 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging, 500m aluminium cans, and 750m glass bottles will be discarded over the festive fortnight. Local authorities report a 20-30% increase in glass and cans collected for recycling

Food waste goes up by 80% at Christmas. On average, across the whole year, UK households throw away 18% of all food purchased. Families with children throw away 27%

Overall, 20% more waste is created over the festive season

 

Leo Hickman

There's no such place as away,
G,
27.12.2008,
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/dec/27/
waste-recycling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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