Belfast Telegraph

Recycling zealots demonstrate not a scrap of sense

By Fionola Meredith

Am I a bad person if I don't recycle properly? Is there a special place in Hell for those who fail to put their rubbish in the right receptacle? I'm only asking because the rules around recycling have gone completely bananas. Almost literally, in fact.

If you live in the Ards and North Down area you will henceforth be considered a social pariah if you slip a rogue banana skin into your grey general waste bin. God forbid a pea or two should get in there as well. The local council has issued a diktat that, from now on, no food waste must enter your normal bin. Not a single bit. No exceptions.

Every crust, scrap or morsel of uneaten food, every single vegetable peeling, even that blob of unconsumed mustard on the side of your plate: all must be carefully collected in a compostable bin-liner, inserted in your council-issue kitchen caddy, then disposed of appropriately in your green or brown bin.

Miscreants who fail to comply with this directive from on high will be punished. Your grey bin will be kept under strict council surveillance, and if they find that rogue banana skin where it shouldn't be you'll get a warning sticker. Keep offending, and you'll be taken away in an unmarked van and interrogated. Well no, you'll actually get the red sticker of shame clapped on your bin, and then the binmen won't empty it.

This is all for the greater good of the people, according to the council. "We estimate that food waste incorrectly disposed of in grey bins costs Ards and North Down residents up to £1m in landfill tax," it says. It also claims that it has to comply with new statutory obligations under the Food Waste Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015, which means that councils must collect food waste separately from other waste for recycling.

If that's the case, then why are people in Belfast or elsewhere not being similarly threatened? Though given the average local bureaucrat's appetite for awkward, petty rules, it can surely be only a matter of time.

Look, I'm not opposed to recycling where it can be proved to me that it makes logical sense. But so many of the orders seem absurdly arbitrary and unquantifiable. For instance, Ards and North Down residents are permitted to put "small amounts of shredded paper" in their green (right) or brown bin. What constitutes a small amount? A wad? A ream? A bushel?

Meanwhile, Belfast City Council will tolerate a takeaway pizza box in a brown compost bin, but only if it is torn-up. Intact pizza boxes, one presumes, must be disposed of elsewhere. Oh wait, but what if there's a rogue bit of pizza crust in there - will I be at risk of public shaming if I don't put it in my green food waste bin?

And when it comes to global emissions, what difference does all this make anyway? Surely it doesn't really matter where I put my sodding pizza crust or banana skin when thousands of new coal-fired power plants are being built across the world.

What I really object to, though, is the authoritarian manner in which these directives are carried out. Ards and North Down residents got a warning letter and a roll of compostable bags stuffed through their door. Where is the conversation, the consultation, the detailed, evidence-based (not estimated) explanation for the change?

As ever it is the poorest people who will be disproportionately affected. In a small house there's barely enough room for one family bin let alone space for all the different caddies, coloured boxes and associated paraphernalia required for recycling.

After the free roll of compostable bags - biodegradable/degradable liners or bags are NOT acceptable - runs out, presumably you'll be buying those too. Easy enough for the affluent denizens of Helen's Bay, with their spacious homes, less so for everyone else.

But nothing will dent the evangelical zeal of the Alliance and Green representatives who championed the clampdown.

"I am delighted that the new council initiative is being received so positively by the community," gushed Alliance councillor Kellie Armstrong when the move was first announced, presumably to scenes of public joy, flag-waving and cheering on the streets. "I look forward to the next update report when I expect the recycling target to be smashed thanks to the concentrated efforts of our great community."

It's exactly this kind of patronising guff which makes me want to lob a sausage where it shouldn't go and await the draconian consequences.

Belfast Telegraph


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