What A Waste!

April 13th, 2011 by Kevin Leave a reply »

In between “Sweet Gene Vincent” and “Hit Me with Your Rhythym Stick”, Ian Dury penned a ditty about doing the right thing – in his case playing the fool in a six piece band.

As far as I recall, back in 1978 waste as a topic only made the news under the umbrella of “The Winter of Discontent”; pictures and VT of bin bags taking over the streets, juxtaposed with picket lines of bell bottoms, platforms and sideburns.

I don’t remember anyone questioning where those piles of rubbish usually ended up, nor what would happen if it continued ad infinitum, it just mattered that they were damn smelly and needed to be downwind and out of sight. But we were back in the dark ages then – despite the advent of the disposable Bic biro, their razors still only had one unscientifically proven blade.

Another defining moment in the seventies was our joining the EEC, now the European Union. Infamous for the mythical straight banana and various other mischievously reported bureaucratic regulations, it turns out that the EU has played a major role in getting waste out of the bin and back on the table in the UK.

A glance at the Gazette’s letters page might lead you to think otherwise, but the new waste contract awarded to May Gurney by West Oxon District Council could be the most progressive policy on domestic waste to be implemented in the UK. And it all stems from one despicable european dictate – the Landfill Directive.

Incentive’s are notoriously difficult to get right, just take a look at Freakonomics to get a flavour of how they are often counter productive. Hugh’s Fish Fight is currently campaigning against one the EU got wrong – fishing quotas. But if there’s an exception that proves the rule it’s probably putting a cost on landfill.

Placing a financial value on dumping through regulation that makes recycling economically sensible allows a budget constrained council to do the right thing. And while visiting May Gurney’s site off Downs Road, I got the sense that doing the right thing probably plays a large part in the enthusiasm of the councils’ officers for getting this right and making it a success.

It’s not all down to them though, we have a part to play in getting it right with waste in Witney and West Oxon, and you can look forward to more posts from our Bin Champion on how to make recycling work better.

I came away pondering the tantalising notion, and real possibility, of “zero domestic waste” – ie, no household waste going to landfill. And that raises a question, what happens to the other 70% of waste in West Oxon that isn’t domestic?



  1. Sally says:

    I’ve found the recent letters in the Gazette quite revealing. It seems to me that some domestic waste producers believe that the rubbish they produce is not their own & somehow belongs to the Local Authority.
    In the commercial world this attitude does not exist, possibly because business rates don’t include waste collection – it is an additional cost to businesses; therefore taking steps to reduce waste is directly cost effective. In recent years recycling has become a big business (with various EU/UK incentives/disincentives) and recycling waste has become cheaper than general waste disposal for the non-domestic market.
    Although this is also true for domestic waste this advantage in costs does not trickle down to the individual in any direct way so the less altruistic/aware householders don’t buy into the collective benefits.
    Maybe one day domestic households will be charged extra for their unsorted rubbish that goes to landfill – this would create a real sense of waste ownership for individuals & possibly change the behaviour of the remaining non-recyclers!

  2. Kate Griffin says:

    Great post – thanks. While we’re talking about economics and incentives, it might be useful to look at the Swiss system for rubbish disposal. At the individual level, you pay for what you throw away. Combine that with seriously good recycling facilities and of course the average household sends much less to landfill.

    I’ve also heard stories of Swiss consumers ripping packaging off items at the shop checkout and leaving it in the shop. That behaviour is completely economically rational once a cost is imposed on throwing that stuff away at home. Then, of course, the shops decide they don’t want to pay for all that packaging either, so they put pressure on their suppliers to use less.

  3. moragcrowther says:

    …perhaps we could make a list of things you can’t recycle rather than what you can. So, recycle everything except ‘this’ rather than bin everything except what you can recycle.

    I like the idea of leaving the packaging in the supermarket, especially from mushrooms. If you do buy supermarket veg ‘Onya’sell a good product that will help leave the packaging behind. see promo blurb below from http://www.onyabags.co.uk

    Your stuff-away Fruit ‘n’ Veggie Bags

    The Onya Weigh contains 5 strong tulle bags, which are light enough not to effect the scales. You can wash your veg in them just like a colander, and store them in the fridge. Much better than plastic bags the tulle bags let your fruit and veg BREATHE so it lasts longer!

    All Onya Bags are washable and love being scrunched into the tiny pouch to fit in your bag or pocket!

    • Sustainable Witney says:

      Hmmm, tills buried as an army of Onyabaggers strip the packaging off their purchases and leave the rubbish behind. Sounds like a good picture opportunity 😮

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