Every time I visit the recycling/waste bins in my building, I am struck by people’s complete inability to deal with the waste they produce. I see so much non-recyclable material in the recycling bins, and vice versa. Yesterday I noticed in the glass bins five plastic bags filled with glass bottles. How lazy were those people to not just tip the glass out and reuse the bags? It would literally take a second to do it. Or maybe they’re not lazy, maybe just stupid, or inconsiderate, or maybe they really could not give a shit.
Ireland, in the tourism literature, is promoted as being a ‘green’ country. In terms of actually being green in the environmental sense, we are seriously lacking however. Are people just blissfully unaware of the amount of waste they produce? Is the concept of recycling something completely alien to them? During the summer, as I set up our office for our off-site centre, I arranged separate bins for recycling and food waste. A few weeks in, I was in the office late one afternoon when the cleaning staff arrived, and witnessed them dumping the contents of both bins in together. What is the bloody point? When I pointed out to them why they should be separate, I may as well have been speaking Swahili.
This inability to distinguish waste seems to be a nationwide issue. Not only do we produce a huge amount of waste, we don’t even know, nor care, what to do with it. At one recycling plant, 38% of the waste sent to them is not recyclable. Last year, 160 contaminated containers of ‘green’ waste from Ireland were stopped in Rotterdam en route to China, and the majority of them sent back here. Of course, exporting our waste is less of an option now, as earlier this year China announced that it would no longer take other countries’ plastic waste. Now we’ll just have to deal with it ourselves.
Maybe we should start with cutting down on the waste we produce? It always irks me to see the amount of bags people take from stores when shopping. Why not bring your own? When I worked in a bookshop a few years back, we tried to discourage customers from using bags unnecessarily. Of course, many would still insist on a large carrier bag, even for a single, tiny, slim volume. This bag would go along with the five or six others they invariable had with them. No doubt the bags all ended up in the bin the minute these halfwits got home. If this is anything to go by, it’s no wonder Ireland is the number one producer of plastic waste in the EU.
So where is the incentive to reduce waste? Household and commercial waste collection has been entirely privatised, so the more waste the better, right? Good for business, good for the economy. We do have a government who are intent on privatising everything else too, so this is unlikely to change. There are campaigns to highlight the issue and cut down on the waste we produce. Note that these initiatives are from non-governmental organisations. There has been little more than lip service from the government on this. We don’t even have a Department of the Environment anymore; it has been folded in to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. And we all know what a great job they are doing. The EU at least has announced its intentions on restricting single-use plastics at least. However, I am skeptical about the wording:
“Under the new proposal, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market where alternatives are readily available and affordable.” [emphasis mine]
Again, the cost to business gets more consideration than the actual environment. Who cares about the 480 billion plastic bottles produced each year?
Some businesses have announced that they are unilaterally cutting out plastic packaging. Supervalu are one. While I applaud their decision, I wonder why they are waiting until 2025 to have this fully implemented? Why not now? It is evident that most people won’t take steps to eliminate or reduce waste themselves, so we need to cut down on their ability to produce waste now, and not in seven years’ time.
Maybe the next generations will be more conscientious, but by then how much more environmental destruction will have been wreaked? How have we got to the point where we are so blasé about this, that so little thought is put into what we consume and waste every day? Where is it going to end? When is it going to dawn on people? I’m afraid I don’t hold out all that much hope. We are a virus with shoes after all.