“I believe every household in England has a basic human right to have their rubbish collected every week”

These are the words of the Rt Hon Eric Pickles, minister for the community, announcing a surprise £250M from the austerity budget to take left over rubbish to landfill. I rushed to find my copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but found no reference to weekly rubbish collections … although some reference to the right of every human person to housing and medical care and also the right to work, including the right to choice of employment and the right to be paid for this work.

Where I live, in Presteigne, people are getting to the point where they don’t actually NEED weekly rubbish collections, because much of it is now recycled. Like many people, we prefer to recycle instead of sending “rubbish” to landfill. Our local recycling scheme, Zero Waste Presteigne and Norton, has just won an award and is breaking records with 92% participation in the town and 74% of our waste now being recycled. Slow recycling is about investing in people rather than shiny, state of the art refuse lorries. The paid recycling team, complete with recycled milk float, operate a kerb-side sorting and collection service. Local people are employed, and local households are guided through the changes to recycling with café drop in sessions, talks and simple, easy to read leaflets.

And for the community as a whole, there is also a substantial financial return from the materials that we recycle. This year £10,000 came back to the community from recyclates and has gone to good causes including local schools and the air ambulance.

The recycling is run by a local social enterprise called Cwm Harry Landtrust, with support from our Town and County Council. If you stop to think about it from a resource point of view, throwing waste such as food into landfill doesn’t make sense. As Adam Kennerley of Cwm Harry puts it:

“Food waste isn’t really waste. It shouldn’t sit on streets in black bags, mixed up with everything, attracting vermin. It shouldn’t sit in landfill, giving off greenhouse gases, wasting valuable resources and spoiling tracts of land given over to “rubbish.” Food waste is a resource. It can be used to produce energy and it can be returned to the soil and used to produce more food, thus completing the cycle.”

At Cwm Harry food waste is turned into soil improver which is composted at the Cwm Harry plant or energy which is produced by Ludlow’s Biogen anaerobic digester. There is also a spin off into local fruit and vegetables, grown on local allotments and the community garden at Cwm Harry, using the Cwm Harry soil improver.

Other waste is sorted and sent further afield, including paper & card, drinks cartons, glass, plastic, cans, textiles, electrical items, batteries etc.
 Many of the items are environmentally costly to produce from the raw material, for example, virgin land is despoiled to mine bauxite, the source material for aluminium cans. And in many cases there is a huge energy (and carbon) saving to recycling the item and a financial return to the community.

Recycling programs like this are saving waste, reducing landfill and creating jobs. 
But if funding is diverted to rubbish collection rather than recycling, then civilisation will continue to destroy natural resources and its ability to sustain itself, step by step. This process of destruction is measurable and obvious by one notable factor  … the waste we produce … pollution in our air, poisons in our waterways, waste in our landfills.

We need a new starting point in human history that begins with a departure from linear economics and a rapid shift to cycles of resource recovery.  As our councillor and Chair of Zero Waste Advisory Board Colin Kirkby said,

“We are delighted that Cwm Harry has won this prestigious award for their work here.  Their Zero Waste Service is making us think differently about waste, so that it is becoming the norm not only to recycle but to avoid creating waste in the first place.”

Amidst the emptying coffers lie untapped resources, such as waste streams and human ingenuity.  In India they are building beautiful houses from old bottles.  Green Door therefore proposes that it is time to recycle Eric.

Rachel Francis, Sharpening Pencils

Printed in Broad Sheep, November 2011



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