Border Lines

From London to Berwick: Culture shock? Oh, yes!

Wash, squash, tops off

The idea of fortnightly bin collections did not exactly make me break out in hives when we moved to Berwick; but, coming from a life of weekly collections, it did creep into my low-level anxiety category.

There’s remembering whether it’s recycling or garbage week; the fear of producing more rubbish than bin; new rules to master on what’s recyclable here…

At our former home in London’s Borough of Haringey, the rubbish police were fierce…there was even talk of special ‘bin checkers’ rifling through your waste to ensure you weren’t sneaking cardboard, plastic or recyclable food waste into the wrong bin. Fines might be slapped on those who generate ‘too much rubbish’. Mind you, I hear that new regulations will ensure that fines issued by councils will be proportionate with waste crimes – rather than yet another easy revenue stream.

In London, our household’s fairly laid back waste sorting regularly culminated in just one bag of rubbish a week, whilst our green boxes (one for non-consumable recyclables, one for waste food) overflowed with bottles (plastic and glass), packaging, Tetra Paks and leftover food. It felt like we were engaged in being green citizens with minimum effort – and I liked it. I’m told that fortnightly bin collections will soon be arriving there – but recycling collections will remain weekly.

I'm not so happy about the amount of items we can recycle up North

The Northumberland County Council website informs me that you get away with a ticking off if you chuck the odd wrong item like a yoghurt pot into your recycling. If you are a consistent blue-bin contaminator, your recycling won’t be collected and you may have your bin taken away. I can’t say I fully understand the vision behind that approach – although, clearly, the ‘wrong kind of rubbish’ issue must be addressed.

Getting waste to the right place in the right condition is tantalising…when is a bottle a container? Tops on or off? Mind you, if you can face it, there’s a video on the council website explaining the dos, don’ts and whys of current recycling in Northumberland. The best thing about the video is the title – Wash, Squash, Tops off. Even after you’ve worked it all out and put the right stuff in the right bin, what is recycled and what ends up in landfill is also a bit opaque. And, after the ‘rubbish shipped to Indonesia’ debacle a few years back, I’m still uneasy about where our waste truly ends up.

Aluminium's a no-no in Berwick

In the overall scheme of things, pondering rubbish may seem a bit trivial. However, if you’ve ever been torn between dropping a small electrical item or domestic battery into the bin (let alone all those plastic toys children amass), or hanging onto them for more careful disposal, you’ll get my drift. When you multiply our dilemma by the number of people in the world with stuff to get rid of…well, it makes my head spin.

I find the idea of every spare acre of ground being dug up and filled with piles and piles of rubbish depressing – it’s not a legacy I want to leave. So, I’d like to do the right thing. But I confess I’d like it to be reasonably easy to do.

And living generously in terms of each other and the planet doesn’t have to be a pain. I was encouraged to read that ironing when only absolutely necessary reduces energy consumption. Oh, music to my ears! Similarly, always carrying a shopping bag or two and refusing bag handouts is gratifying and simple: and reduces the amount of plastic flapping in our trees. More challenging is choosing items with less packaging (come on supermarkets and manufacturers – get a grip!), and, surprisingly, using up all the food I buy. And I’m not alone – apparently wasted food costs the average family with children around £680 a year!

It was certainly helpful to live in an area that made my recycling life more straightforward – and, whilst I know budgets are tight, I would make a plea for more extensive and accessible recycling facilities kerbside and municipal. The easier and clearer it’s all made, the more we will get used to doing it and getting on with it. Meanwhile, is it black or blue bin this week?

(A version of this article was first published on May 5th 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser www.berwick-advertiser.co.uk)

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From London to Berwick: Culture shock? Oh, yes!

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