Jayne Dowle: Don’t bin bid to take stand against disposable society

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I DON’T often get excited about the findings of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee. Its latest report is important, though. It should urge Ministers to take a stance and reverse a society which is becoming ever more disposable. Sadly, it will probably get lost in the mountains of paper the Government produces every year. It shouldn’t end up in the landfill. It should go down as a landmark, the moment when we really could turn a corner.

We’ve never been as aware of the effects of mankind on the environment. We’ve watched the films and heard the speeches and seen the floods and the polar ice caps melting. Yet what do we do about it? Nothing, except continue to pile up the rubbish. Your local tip is the tip of the iceberg. I bet you’ll find perfectly serviceable plant pots and furniture and bikes down there, thrown away without a thought. It’s time for this to change, and fast.

You might think this report has nothing to do with you, but that’s where you would be wrong. Its recommendations apply to us all. Taken seriously, they could have the power to change all our lives. For a start, it deals with our bins. Was ever an issue as divisive and controversial as bins? Forget the Euro and the economy. Bin collections are one of the biggest political bugbears of our time. Every town, city and village has its own tale to tell. Local councils set their refuse collections seemingly on a whim, with no joined-up thinking nationwide. Ours changed recently, and try as I might I can see no logic behind the new arrangements. I get so confused I end up piling all my old newspapers in the car and taking them to the recycling centre myself, which kind of defeats the object.

I think I’ve got a challenge on my hands? At my sister’s in Kent, she has to scrape out all her food waste into a bin in the kitchen which is collected every week. It’s a task indeed, and a messy one at that. However, if we want to conserve our resources, it’s an example we could all benefit from following. Food scraps can be turned into compost, fertiliser, biogas and renewable energy. I realise that the words “anaerobic digestion” are not going to push everyone’s buttons, but it makes you think. I admit I do get a sense of satisfaction from depositing my vegetable peelings into my recently-acquired composter. It’s one small step for my garden at least, but I often wonder how my little black bin fits into the bigger picture.

The problem is that Ministers bang on about global warming but very, very rarely do they manage to connect this to the reality of our daily lives. They seem incapable of coming up with an overall steer that applies nationwide.

Local councils can do pretty much what they like with their rubbish. And, as the report points out, this is not just annoying for residents. It’s counter-productive for businesses and manufacturers too.

They complain that they can’t put consistent information on their packaging regarding the recycling of products and materials because different rules apply in different areas. How daft is that? And how simple would it be to fix?

That’s why I like this report very much. What it does is pull together all those niggling thoughts I’ve ever had about throwing things away. Although the politics of local bin collections confuses and frustrates me, I’m a natural conserver of resources. Thrift and guilt are my main motivators. I keep pieces of string and rubber bands. I never, ever chuck outgrown or worn-out clothes in the bin, but always pass them on or send them to the charity shop or rip them up to turn into cleaning cloths. My plastic carrier bag collection threatens to take over the cellar and I hoard jam jars and coffee jars because they “might come in useful one day”.

This might all sound like the ramblings of a tight-fisted and possibly obsessive/compulsive eccentric, but at the back of my mind I like to think I’m helping to conserve global resources. As the committee’s chairwoman Joan Walley points out, none of us can afford to ignore the fact that pretty soon the world is going to run out of raw materials. She says that global food prices have roughly doubled since the beginning of the century, metal prices have trebled and energy prices quadrupled. And, meanwhile, the population continues to rise, up to nine billion by 2050, if the latest estimates prove correct. Something has got to give, and the very least we can do is to give serious consideration to what Ms Walley and her committee are recommending.

None of us can afford to dismiss their findings as another boring report on recycling. We should all do our bit, but more than that, MPs should take its findings very seriously too. They have the power to make plans and pass legislation to reverse the trends of our disposable society. If they fail to act now, it will be a wasted opportunity indeed.