The Socialist 7 June 2007 |
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Weekly bin collections AND recycling schemes
OVER RECENT months several councils have announced their intention to move to fortnightly non-recyclable bin collections (from weekly) and to increase recycling bin collections to fortnightly too. Environment Secretary, David Miliband, also announced plans to allow councils to introduce additional bin charges as well as rewards for those who recycle the most.
For the last year I have lived in an area where the alternating fortnightly bin collections (non-recycled then recycled) had been trialled.
I went from having five bin collections every four weeks (four weekly non-recyclable and one monthly recyclable) to four (two fortnightly non-recyclable and two fortnightly recyclable), which is a cut in collections.
For the most part the two of us sharing the house managed to cope with the reduced collections, except at Christmas, where the reduced collections meant that it was almost four weeks between them.
In consequence, we were left with a pile of bags in the house that wouldn't fit in the bin. It was even worse for the family next door with a new-born baby. They had bin bags full of nappies that they couldn't fit in their bin for months.
This scheme was supposed to improve recycling and reduce the amount of waste, similar to the announcements made recently by the Environment Secretary.
The problem with the scheme is that it didn't take into account the different amounts of waste produced by families due to the differing numbers of people living within each house.
Schemes that try to charge for bin collections or charge by bin weight will come across similar problems, as houses containing more people will undoubtedly create more waste than those with fewer.
Despite claims that any charging scheme for waste collection would be revenue-neutral, all councils are engaging in ways to cut costs, whether by trying to limit public-sector pay or cut services.
Providing more recycling collections gives people the chance to recycle things they couldn't in the past due to their recycling bins being full. However, reducing non-recycling collections doesn't mean that recycling will increase, given the amount of excess packaging on many products.
JUNK MAIL and packaging are the main sources of waste that could be reduced. Miliband proposes an opt-out scheme for undirected junk mail, but why should people have to opt out of mail they don't want anyway.
Excess packaging is another thing which people are burdened with by companies. Any packaging which is still needed should be designed to be recyclable or reusable.
Products could be designed to last longer and thus need replacing less often too (creating less waste) and those that do exist (such as energy-saving light bulbs) should be made affordable to more people.
Whilst more affluent individuals may be able to afford the 'green lifestyle' products companies now produce, these tend to remain out of the reach of ordinary people.
It will take more than just Miliband's 'voluntary agreements' with big business to change the above problems. They exist because companies believe that they can either attract more customers (junk mail), lower their costs (non-reusable/recyclable packaging) or increase sales (short-usage products) all meaning greater profits.
The firms that are mostly responsible for this are making millions and sometimes billions of pounds worth of profits, yet still they squeeze more out through these wasteful methods.
This is due to the very nature of capitalism based, as it is, on profits rather than the needs of people and the environment.
Only by production being democratically planned to meet the needs of the environment and people can we reduce this vast waste.
We should demand:
- Fully funded weekly public waste collection and recycling schemes
- No to privatisation of bin collection and to extra collection charges
- Nationalisation of the big supermarkets and the top 150 companies under democratic control.
When recycling becomes a hazard
SOON, SOME 200 councils will have axed their weekly rubbish collections. It is claimed that fortnightly collections will improve household waste recycling rates. Currently, 100 million tonnes of rubbish is dumped in landfill sites and the UK is close to the bottom of the European recycling league.
However, Channel 4's Dispatches programme (broadcast on 24 May) showed that fortnightly collections were risking a public health hazard by leaving waste uncollected for longer. As a consequence, households were recycling less waste. They were putting recyclable items into non-recyclable collections if it meant getting rid of them faster.
Squandered - earth's mineral resources
UNDER THE present system of profit and waste, it is not only rubbish that gets thrown away or squandered. As an article in New Scientist magazine (26 May) showed, some of the world's most valuable mineral resources are being seriously depleted.
Expensive metals like platinum, essential for such environmentally important products as catalytic converters and fuel cells, are in increasingly short supply. Due to wasteful methods of production and usage, platinum makes up 1.5 parts per million of roadside dust. Scientists are now trying a bacterial process to separate platinum from the dust in the largest waste sites.
Gallium, indium and other metals that are needed for solar cells are also becoming rarer. The US imports 90% of its 'rare earth' metals from China which is industrialising fast and may keep more of its bounty for its own industrial needs.
Shortage of resources often increases tendencies towards conflict. Already, media reports show the effects of capitalism on poverty-stricken but mineral-rich countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose people have faced horrific civil war as battle has raged over the huge mineral resources.
Millions have died in wars while plunder by mineral companies has reduced vast areas to little more than desolate moonscapes worked by miners as young as eight. Gold, diamonds and the biggest tantalum mines in Africa are not being used as a common resource to raise living standards in that continent and solve environmental problems worldwide but to boost private profit and power.
Nobody knows how much or how little reserves of these minerals are still in the earth.
Socialist planning needs to replace the chaos of production for profit and prestige. This is the only way of making a better world and finding a solution to the problems caused by the short-sightedness of capitalism.
How do we phase out plastic bags?
THE SMALL town of Modbury in Devon received quite a bit of media coverage when it went plastic carrier bag-free early in May.
Plastic bags make up a large percentage of waste. These carrier bags do not degrade, rather they break up into smaller pieces that can eventually enter the food chain.
So, it is beneficial to the environment to phase out their use. In Modbury, the elimination of plastic bags was achieved by replacing them with compostable bags. However, the population of only 1,553 people is hardly analogous to any major town or city.
What is more, £3.95 per compostable bag is hardly affordable to working-class people. However, if such bags were produced in greater quantities this would immediately reduce their price - they need to be provided very cheap or free.
It would be necessary for these to be available in all shops, most importantly the big chain stores and supermarkets where their use would have the most impact.