or why this stupid wasteful attitude needs to stop. Really.
The Daily Mail today ran an odious story christening kitchen caddies – that’s food waste recycling containers to those of us that don’t yet have them in our homes – “slop buckets”.
The story was about huge fines to be imposed on households that decide not to recycle food waste via a government scheme designed to make it as easy as possible when and if the trial scheme that’s in place at the moment is rolled out nationally. The article talked about smells, fly and maggot infestations and generally presented a negative image of the initative.
I’m really, really cross about this for several reasons.
1) Recycling your food waste is NOT a stupid idea
I grew up in the countryside. We didn’t keep pigs – although actually I remember clearing our plates of food waste at primary school into a scrap bucket for the pigs on one of the local farms. This was pre-turkey twizzlers, obviously.
No, we had a compost heap in the garden and we put kitchen scraps into a lidded bucket until we had enough in it to merit a trip up the garden to the compost heap.
I’m not talking Victorian poverty when I talk about scrap buckets, I’m talking twenty years ago and an activity that’s perfectly normal.
Food matter rots down – with the help of those flies and maggots – to make a very useful fertiliser to grow guess what? More food. Circle of life and all that. Plants grown in compost grow better, generally, so can have higher yields. And you can use it to grow your very own organic veg in your garden without what I suspect the Mail considers the rip-off prices of organic in supermarkets (I could go into more complex descriptions but I’m keeping to the Jack and Jill description as it seems that that is all that those involved with the Daily Mail would understand on this issue).
Yes, I know that there are sometimes rats, mice etc. in compost heaps. Not a big fan of those. But even in a city there’s supposed to be a rat no more than 6 feet away from you at all times (I think that’s a estimate of reality rather than a new Euroepan Regulation by the way). Point is that they are everywhere, part of life and it would be stupid to send food waste to landfill because you’re afraid of a bit of wildlife.
2) Hygiene is in your hands
We’ve just come back from a holiday in Devon. We borrowed a little cottage there from a friend and in the instructions she put details of the recycling regime: South Hams District Council provides both a kitchen caddy and a brown wheelie bin for the caddy to be emptied into when full. It provides biodegradable liner bags for the caddy so that it is easy to keep clean and easy to transport the waste from one to the other.
Waste and the creatures that aid its breakdown go hand in hand.
The trick is to be hygienic, but not obsessive.
If you are the sort of person that has completely cut themselves off from the big wide world out there, who doesn’t like to get muddy, or wear wellies, or who uses all those antibacterial products for everything (you know, not just the soap or the surface cleaner but those plastic chopping boards that are impregnated with an antibacterial bug killer), or who uses a Glade plug-in in case of unexpected elephants dropping in for a cup of tea (I might be getting a bit confused by the advertising there)… then you may well read the Daily Mail and be opposed to recycling food waste because of the mess.
By the way, old ready meals decaying smell considerably worse than e.g. vegetable peelings. Or may be not if you’ve got so used to them that the smell of raw veg is really off-putting to you.
The whole fortnightly bins collection debacle is clearly colouring the debate here.
There is no requirement in European law that bins should be collected fortnightly no matter what you might have read to that effect. However, there is an obligation to increase levels of recycling and cut the amount of waste going to landfill.
It is possible that in order to do that, and to cut the cost of running recycling house-to-house collections in addition to normal domestic waste collections, some councils decided to do each every other week. That’s just not sensible – keeping the sort of waste that can’t be recycled hanging around for a fortnight is going to cause exactly the sort of bugs and smells that people complain about. Complain to the council, heck, vote’em out if they impose that sort of policy. But don’t write off recycling because of a stupid bureaucratic decision on bin collection….
3) The world does not have infinite resources
The thing is, for me, I can’t understand why this kitchen scrap recycling is thought to be a bad thing.
How have we got ourselves into a position of thinking that what we do is without consequence?
If we say “why should I recycle?” what we are in effect saying is “why shouldn’t I be able to use the planet’s resources with no thought for future generations?”
I’m no saint on this.
I own far too many clothes. And books. And things in general.
I use a car (I use public transport where possible altohugh admittedly this is mainly because I hate driving in London).
I feel really bad about having used disposable nappies rather than “real” ones (buckets of napisan+ living in small first floor flat and going back to work = just not going to happen) but at least I understand that this was a decision to make.
I’m just watching Economy Gastronomy on BBC2, reintroducing families to the concept of cooking for yourself rather than buying ready meals and using up leftovers. My husband and I are both good cooks, but are terribly time-poor which means we do have a rather better knowledge of the ready meals available out there than we ought to. But when we cook proper food we overcater and save and freeze portions of bolognese, or fish in a sauce or whatever it might be to turn into other meals later on. If we cook too much, there’s almost always enough for my son to try it in a toddler friendly version the next day. Why would I bung my hard effort in the bin when we can eat it up?
There’s a lot of people out there who don’t seem to care, who think that only the latest, most fashionable thing is worthwhile. As if a house furnished entirely in IKEA is better than one with revamped, personalised older furniture – that old is somehow less asthetically pleasing.
We’re going to have to stop this, we really are.
There’s not enough raw materials in the world for us to treat clothes and furniture as if they are disposable.
4) The Cbeebies factor
I feel the Daily Mail needs to get with the programme. Literally.
If you want an idea of what our kids are likely to think about this, take a look at the CBeebies channel. Barely a programme goes by without a character doing some recycling, planting something in a window box, making a rain catcher, running around outside, cooking something from scratch…
Basically my toddler and thousands of others around the UK are being indoctrinated. And I thoroughly approve. If recycling can be normal for them, then they can respond to things like the Daily Mail’s article with the outrage it deserves.
5) The State we’re in…
But, you might ask, why does the state need to get involved?
Why should there be prescribed buckets and a system of fines?
Surely people are entitled to have a compost heap, or not, but shouldn’t be forced to keep disgusting waste in their otherwise immaculate, antibacterialised, gleaming kitchens rather than hide it in the Brabantia and have someone take it away without having to think about to where?
Well, the liberal part of me thinks so.
I’ve lived in Belgium where you not only get fined for putting the wrong sort of waste in the wrong bin bag, to add insult to injury you have to by all of the different coloured bin bags yourself, no subsidy. Belgium is very much a police state (albeit one that is big on bureaucracy more than efficiency) with e.g. complusory carrying of ID cards etc. so the idea of a fines system and more stick than carrot seemed quite normal to me there. It works, but it works because everyone does it.
But people need to understand that their actions are the result of choices, that the information is out there for them to use to make those choices, and that they owe it to themselves and the wider world to make informed decisions. That takes time, effort and a not-so-self-centred view of the world.
Sometimes the cheaper, quicker fix is just to do as the Belgians do.
I saw a poll earlier this week (here and here) that shows that the UK is a nation of climate change sceptics.
We’re happy to do the little things, but not put our lives on hold.
And that’s the thing.
We can be nudged, but try to lecture us, or fine us, and you risk the sort of ludicrous reaction that the Daily Mail has had to something as sensible as recycling food waste.
Oh, and if you still can, vote “yes” in the poll on the Daily Mail’s site in favour of having a kitchen caddy. The link’s up at the top of this page. The Twitter @polljack campaign has got the “yes” vote to 77% so far but more always a good thing…