Sunday, September 24, 2006

Big green litigation machine

It is so like Britain to wait until the planet is almost irreversibly imperilled to discover recycling. Whilst the rest of the world has been writing with pencils that used to be plastic cups for a generation, we have blithely gone on filling in the gaps between hills with our used bottles, tins and milk cartons. Now that councils have finally gone green and introduced household recycling, what is the first thing they do? Overreact of course.

Fellow Hackney blogger Struggling Author recently reported that she had been threatened with a £1,000 fine for not recycling by Hackney Council even though she hadn’t been given a recycling box and had requested one three times. How can you prove someone hasn’t recycled? Isn’t it a bit like trying to demonstrate that they haven’t had enough kind thoughts or read with interest all the library books they borrowed?

It is entirely possible to live a life without newspapers, bottles or cans – the only items that are presently being collected in Hackney. What if you haven’t put out your recycle box because you are presently at the North Pole with a team of environmentalists measuring how much of the solar ice cap has melted or enjoying a ballooning holiday in the company of Richard Branson?

We have had a whole generation of being conditioned to throw food cartons and soft drink containers onto the floors of buses and leave our already read free newspapers complete with sticky splodges on the seat so that the next passenger can sit down on the remains of our bacon and egg Mcmuffin and ruin their white jeans.

In the 1970s all the rubbish bins were removed from central London when the IRA’s bombing campaign was at its height. By the time these were finally returned a few years ago, no one could even remember what the letters IRA had stood for. When the new bins appeared on the streets everyone assumed this was a new type of post box as the post office had recently changed its name to Consignia. Many people were annoyed that the letters they’d popped into these boxes didn’t reach their destinations. The post office would have received more complaints but no one could remember its new name.

Different countries have different ways of recycling. I once went on a week long full board holiday to Lake Garda in Italy. The beautiful four star hotel we stayed at provided you with half a dozen big white fluffy towels and there was a very sweet little card in the bathroom which said something like,

‘every hotel in the whole world dumps squillions of dangerous chemicals into the water system every day in order to provide you with a huge pile of clean towels that don’t have anyone else’s toothpaste on them. If you care about the environment, please hang the towels up so we know you want to use them again. However, if you are the kind of selfish sod that doesn’t give an organic fig about the planet, chuck them on the floor.’

It doesn’t matter how neatly you replace the towels on the racks, they always take them away and give you new ones. This hotel not only replaced all the towels every day whether you had used them or not, but changed the bed linen every other day. On the other hand, they gave you one cloth napkin and an envelope with your name on it. You were expected to wipe your mouth with this napkin after eating a big plate of sloppy pasta and replace it in the envelope for the next meal. You got one of these tiny squares for the whole week.

It is not going to be easy to go from a lifetime of wanton environmental vandalism to remembering that you must fill up a green box with bottles and cans that you have carefully washed and put it outside your front door every other Tuesday. You may have to resort to stealing from other people’s recycling boxes on your way home from the pub if you haven’t remembered to eat enough baked beans for the previous fortnight. You could always take home your copy of the Metro and put that in rather than leaving it on the seat for the next person to read. If you have already done the sudoku, it would be the neighbourly thing to do.

Another wonderful cartoon by Chris Madden

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