This is why we have to reduce our rubbish to landfill

Filed in Blog by on October 6, 2008 19 Comments
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an incinerator with toxic fumes We’ve been harping on about households reducing their landfill waste for a few months now.

And I still see piles of the stuff on rubbish collection day up and down the roads.

I’m still seeing pictures of glum faces on the front of the paper when someone’s bin is not collected due to ‘contamination’ or not being placed in the right spot on their kerbside.

I’m still seeing people throw away perfectly good items because they don’t have time to care.

I’m still seeing people buying more stuff because the adverts tell them to be dissatisfied with what they have.

I’m still seeing people confused and bewildered by the recycling collections – what goes where? What is this made from? Can I recycle it easily?

And I’m still hearing people claim that a weekly rubbish collection is their ‘birth right’.

What I’m seeing most of all is ingrained habits and attitudes. And boy, I know how hard those are to shift. But that is why we created this site. We created it to put an end to the annoying questions, find some answers for us all and show how, with a little change in attitude, we can all reduce our waste.

You don’t have to go zero waste, but I would reckon that the average household could easily HALVE their waste without too much effort. I really believe that.
Mrs A
has proved it, so has John Costigane, Just Gai proved it this week, Tracey Smith has sold out her book about it and garbloggers all over the world are showing us how they are doing it!

The biggest ingrained habit in this culture in my opinion, is that we have been encouraged to absolve ourselves of responsibility. We just let someone else take care of it. We do it with our health, our food, the education of our children and the things we buy.

Instead of reading up about symptoms and natural cures, we go to the Doctors to be prodded, poked, have bits cut out of us and given drugs.

Instead of growing food and cooking it, we let supermarkets serve us denatured food, some of it grown in laboratories, flown from the other side of the country, sprayed with poisons or reared in horrific circumstances. We nuke it in the microwave and eat it in front of the TV.

Instead of taking responsibility for our children, we send them to school to let the teachers take care of their upbringing.

We allow ourselves to be hypnotised by the TV and just when we are in a lovely receptive trance we have images fired at us of things we need to make us feel better about ourselves. Because we are always told that we are not good enough as we are.

This week there was a story in the paper about someone who was going to sue the council because they tripped over a bump in the road. Fifty years ago they would have been told to watch where they were going. Now we live in a blame culture where it is always someone else’s fault. And if we don’t like the way our life is turning out, we can find someone to blame and take them to court over it.

We also have the attitude that we pay money for something, so we expect value for money. How many times have you heard ‘we pay our council tax, so I expect my rubbish to be collected?’incinerator for a zero waste country

Well, take a look at the situation in Naples this year to know that we have it pretty good over here. There is an example of ‘not my responsibility’ gone mad. If rubbish started stacking up in the streets near you, would you really not do something about it? Would you not gather together some friends and neighbours and take it in your own cars and vans if needed?
I wonder how many people would.

Only the other week, Mr Green and I were travelling through the forest when we came across two big black bins bags in the road. They had obviously been shed by a refuse collection lorry or someone on their way to the recycling centre. Every car infront ofย  us, slowed down, indicated and pulled out around it.

It took us to put on our hazard lights, stop and pick the bags up to deliver them to the tip. But how many hundreds before us had just driven past – it’s not their responsibility, right? And if someone had driven over the bags and found they were full of sharp metal and their car had been damaged? Well just sue the council or the rubbish collection service for not doing their job properly. We’re all paying enough council tax to get the service done properly aren’t we?

So while we continue with blaming, not taking responsibility and hoping someone else will sort out the problem of the ever decreasing landfill (the number one response I get when talking to friends about this issue is ‘I have no choice; the manufacturers have to change. It’s not my fault.’) talk of incineration is increasing as the solution to our rapidly growing ‘not my responsibility’ problem.

Many welcome it because it takes the problem away; and we all love to do that, right? But I fear that our problems will only just begin. This week, 4,500 people signed a petition against an incinerator after a GP warned of the possible side effects of living near a plant such as increased rates of cancer, heart attacks, clinical depression, autism, asthma and coronary heart disease.

According to the story, incinerators belch out toxic fumes including mercury, arsenic, dioxins, cobalt, lead and particulates.

We were once told smoking was good for us, now we have warnings on the side reminding us that smoking kills. We were once told that thalidomide was the perfect antidote to morning sickness and today, one of my childhood friends lives with stumps for his arms – a legacy of the most horrific medical accident in history. Not so many years ago, we believed the world was flat and that we would sail off the end of the world if we were so stupid as to go near the horizon.

So, the main reason you have to reduce your rubbish to landfill now is so that you’re not signing a petition against an incinerator in your back garden in the near future. Because who knows what the outcome of that will be in ten years time.

The funny thing about human nature is we all adopt a ‘it will never happen to me’ mentality, but I bet people around Europe who now live within a few miles radius of an incinerator once thought an incinerator would never really be built in their neighbourhood.

So instead of waiting for someone else to act, someone else to lead, someone else to change, make the decision to take responsibility for your own rubbish and be the one who changes.

We all know the Gandhi quote ‘be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Well, together we can do it! We are powerful people; we can vote with our money by refusing to buy things in excessively packaged fancy wrapping. We can refuse carrier bags and take our own reusable bags with us to the shops. We can turn down pre-packed cheese, meat and fish by taking reusable containers to the deli, butchers, markets and shops. We can leave our packaging at the checkout.

You don’t have to be at the mercy of the manufacturers and stores, unless you make the choice to. Is it all about choice and you DO have a choice, regardless of what you think. There is always an alternative when you invest in a little time to care.

So, if you don’t want an incinerator built then be part of the solution now. Stop throwing waste away that will feed one of these things. If the demand isn’t there, they cost too much money to build on a ‘let’s see if it works’ basis. Don’t provide food for the monster – deal with it responsibly………..

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (19)

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  1. Hi Mrs G – wow, that’s such a lot to get off your chest and I am glad you did. You know you can take this into the work situation too. Throughout my career I came across so many people who were unhappy with their work, but they never said anything, well not to the right people who could make the difference. Then there are those who complain about things that happen in their town, but don’t DO anything to make it better. I think as a nation, there is this acceptance that people can’t make a difference. As you say, people can make a huge difference. After all it is our world and the only person who needs to give us permission is ourselves.

  2. Kris says:

    I really enjoy reading your impassioned pieces Mrs G, it’s always good to have another moment to pause and really think. There were a couple of points that made me feel guilty, but that’s not a bad thing and could be a catalyst instead.

  3. esther says:

    Wwo, you put the finger, right there where it hurts the most! It’s totally that, putting of the responsibility and blaming others! It’s excactly what I have been doing for years and years and I have to say, probably am still doing for some things in my life! It felt really motivating to read this post, so thank you very much for writing it!!!

  4. *sound of nail on head*
    Applause, much applause.

    Thank you.

    I have multiple blogs – I keep one especially for political and potentially inflammatory impassioned stuff and I’ve had a ramble about evolution and intervention today which kinda touches on some of the same areas.

    Current predictions say the oil runs out in 4-6 years at our current rate of consumption. We need alternatives and we need them NOW.

  5. Karen says:

    HERE, HERE!!!! I like your style, Mrs G.

  6. Tracey Smith says:

    What a wondefully poignant posting today Missus…

    I popped a post onto a political blog today – but feel it could sit here equally well – here she is…


    What terrifies me is the fact that the media continues to place such importance on a handful of eclectic individuals around the world who purport to govern and rule, then they watch and report upon them to within an inch of their lives!

    They cover everything from what colour ties they’re wearing and the new bags under their eyes, to new policies and the last time they passed wind…

    I’m not stupid or extreme and I do realise there ‘has’ to be a collective of rulers and governors or perhaps the pillars of industry and commerce would implode upon themselves (actually, opps, isn’t that whats going on at the moment….how interesting…).

    Consequently, we seem to hang on their every word, we analyse to death every facial expression; we look to them for our salvation and slate them when it all goes pear shaped.

    The trick the media are ‘clearly’ missing ‘could’ very well be the saving of us all.

    We should be encouraged to place a higher value on the importance of the individual. We regular Joes (and Josephines) could and should be encouraged to take more personal responsibility for the space we inhabit and also to live more sustainably in it.

    By that I mean living within our means, cooking more from fresh, car sharing our journeys, composting our waste, making good with leftover food, sharing our abundance, growing a few things in the garden and taking a longer term view on consuming in general to name but a few! We should buy things that have longevity built in, not planned obsolescence and favour items that use sustainable sources of fuel or energy (wind-up, solar etc).

    Living frugally isn’t mean, it’s savvy and we have all forgotten the skills that everyone had to polish during the wars. I’m only 42, but I’m striving to encourage people to ‘slow down and green up’ and reconnect to the simple philosophies of times gone by! My grandparents didn’t have credit cards, they certainly didn’t have loans thrust at them from every arm of the media either. They knew how to live seasonally and eat seasonally, because that was all there was available!

    We’ve lost the skills of simple living and got ourselves up to our backsides in debt in a great many cases, then we look up at this handful of ‘leaders’ and say, help…..!

    What can they do?

    They are all flailing about and bailing each other out at the moment and there’s a plapable fear and global panic like nothing I’ve ever seen.

    I think the credit crunch combined with peak oil and other assorted financial chaos will leave it’s mark showing this as a pivotal point in history, encouraging the world to ‘live within her means’ and embrace what shes has, where she has it.

    The days of excess are gone. It’s not big or clever to owe hundreds or thousands of pounds/dollars to anyone. The more you spend, the more time you have to be out there earning it and the less time you get to spend with the ones you love – that’s a great philosophy to work towards, but we’re not hearing it from the mouths of our leaders…

    When ‘this’ lending crisis is over, they’ll be back on our case, encouraging borrowing, loans and all the rest of it and the media will be there to support their cry. To a degree, there ‘has’ to be some borrowing or the entire system really WOULD collapse! But whatever great advice is bounded around, not everyone is going to take it, so the markets and traders will undoubtedly live on.

    Take THIS as your opportunity to give a positive embrace to living with less. ‘Stuff’ doesn’t enhance your life – ‘life does’ and time is most precious commodity of all.

    There’s never been a more poignant time to look back at our recent past, to learn from it and take sustainability into our futures.

    But you might not hear ‘that’ from our lcollective eaders….

    Take some personal responsibility for your lives and let the big boys fight it out amongst themselves.

    Tracey Smith

  7. Well said Tracey and this adds to Mrs G’s post perfectly. Despite all the doom and gloom on the news last night, it was really heart-warming to hear the news that cobblers are reporting a 20% increase in shoe repairs. Information like that shows people are starting to look at things differently and what a real positive move to have shoes repaired than simply thrown away.

  8. Poppy says:

    I’ll vote for you Tracey ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Mrs Green says:

    Phew! Thank you all. I must admit, I pulled out my soapbox, had a rant and then slunk away for a couple of days – a little worried about everyone;s reactions. So far so good ๐Ÿ˜€

    Mrs A, I too used to think I couldn’t DO anything to change things, so I didn’t. But I’m learning that this was erroneous thinking and I’m realising more and more what a powerful position consumers are in, if we act together. It does take a critical mass to instigate change though…… I like the statistic about cobblers; that is excellent news.

    Kris / Esther, believe me I have felt guilty about some of the stuff I write about too. And I still do things I know I shouldn’t in the name of convenience. But we’re all taking baby steps towards change and it’s good to focus on that. When we feel comfortable then we can add something new to work on.

    Sarah, what is the address of your other blog? Or is it anonymous. 4-6 years eh? It will be interesting to see if people change or whether they make the most of the party while it lasts!

    Thank you Karen! Glad you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it LOL!

    Tracey, your post was beautiful and highlighted some really important points. I think many of us are learning what is important to us at this time. We’re learning what we can do without, where the excesses are and I reckon most of us are learning that our ‘stuff’ or status need not define us at all. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Poppy, she was a bit good up there, wasn’t she LOL! I’d vote for her too. how can you not trust that amazing woman to lead us towards better ways?!

  10. it’s Not anonymous but it reflects the extremes of my politics.

  11. Tracey Smith says:

    Thank you ladies – I think the Internet has done us all a great service. It’s enabled us to speak from the heart and given us an opportunity to connect with kindred spirits.

    The really clever bit is in lacing all that positive energy together for the common good, so thank god for our blogs.

    Have a lovely Thursday – it’s sunny here – yippppeeee!!!


  12. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    My throwaway material is down to 10% of my total waste. 10% reuse, most recycled or composted.

    However, down the road there are at least five families recycling 10%, and black bagging 90% and wanting Pickles weekly service back.

    This is the reality and dilema. Attitudes will not alter quickly. Economic crisis works better than climate change empathy, unfortunately with regards to the 3Rs.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Rob, You have a good total of waste in your household now. How many years have you been working at this? My feeling is that almost everybody could reduce their waste by half within a couple of weeks of new habits in place. But as you say, attitudes do not change quickly unless some trauma triggers change (such as economic crisis).
    There is talk of fortnightly collections (which I am for) in our area now, along with paying for green waste collections (which I am not for for purely selfish reasons) so I’m watching the story closely.

  14. esther says:

    HI Mrs Green, it’s me again; I took the liberty as to translate this post and put it on my blog (of cours, I said it was yous and that I just translated it) I really hope you don’t mind; I really thought it was important for people overhere to be able to read this…If you do mind, I’ll just take it of and I’ll understand.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Esther, You go right ahead, I’m honoured you want to share it and the more people who read it, the better. Thank you!

  16. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    20 years, and still campaigning.

    It was reassuring that here in Norwich the newly introduced blue bin dry recyclables increased recycling from 16% to 40% in 18 months. No system is perfect.

    Glass is collected separately as this contaminates paper/card with shards; offers switched on.

    Rather sad last week, all flat residents spent 13 days collecting half a bin of glass (bin clearly labelled Glass only), only on day 14 one flat resident to through 2 black bags of rubbish in. Not particularly mindful. Oh well, one for reprogramming.

    We have a 250l brown bin sub (ยฃ35pa) service which has really taken off and in popular. Residents (terrraced not producing loads)can share bins and split subs if they wish. Council happy with this.

    We are pushing for the last major link wich is a weekly kitchen waste caddy service which could easily add 10-20% more big wins to recycling/composting rates; less lost to landfill or residual treatment.


  17. Mrs Green says:

    20 years, Rob – that is amazing. It’s all habit to you now then? We’re still learning, still making mistakes, but it’s a rewarding thing to do. 16-40% in 18 months is pretty good, especially with some of the apathy I’ve witnessed. And, like in the example you shared, all it takes is one person to contaminate a load – it’s such a shame.
    It appears that we are going to trial kitchen waste in our area soon; this will be interesting to see how much uptake it has ๐Ÿ™‚
    Do keep us posted on News in Norwich; it’s good to hear about other areas across the UK

  18. Poppy says:

    I nearly goofed today. Liquid soap in sachets to refill the bottles. Brilliant I thought……but no, wait a minute….I can recycle plastic bottles but I can’t recycle the plastic sachets ๐Ÿ™

  19. Mrs Green says:

    Oh no Poppy! Never mind, the thought was there. At least you tried.

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