THE magazine was lying on the bench in the bus shelter. A Reader’s Digest, in “as new condition”, as a car salesman might say. Was it forgotten or left there to find a new owner? Well, I rose to the occasion and took it with me on my bus ride. Either the trip was short or I read slowly but by journey’s end I had finished only one article.
That was 30 years ago but the story stays with me still. The article was an expose of the waste and recycling industry. It suggested that much of what we believed was being returned to a useful life was actually being buried with the rest of our waste. I wonder if things have changed for the better over those 30 years.
Whenever I take recyclables to the Grantville transfer station I question if maybe it is all just a big con, perhaps a ploy by Big Brother to make us feel good.
POEM FOR THE WEEK
By Michael Leunig
(from a failing memory)
The road to home is lined with
lovely eucalypts and wattles
And plastic bags and paper cups and
empty cans and bottles*
A tribute to the efforts of the little Aussie
Who ought to have it gathered up and
shoved right up his jumper.
* I know this line is NQR.
I have grounds for my cynicism. In earlier times, when Des was in charge of the tip, bottles were sorted out into three groups, clear, green, and brown, and Des made sure you got it right. They were then thrown into 44-gallon drums and Des would come out when things were quiet and scrunch each drum into pulp with this big iron manual tamper. Today you chuck all your glass and anything that remotely resembles plastic into one large skip. It is then transported somewhere else to be sorted. Why do they do that?? Why not keep it separate in the first place?
So I speak to a friend of mine who worked off and on for some years at the Wonthaggi recycling depot hand-sorting on a conveyor belt with seven others. Truckloads of recyclable waste was picked up in wheely bins and tipped out onto a concrete slab, then scooped up and fed onto the belt.
He tells me the newer trucks are fitted with CCTV so the driver can check for any wrong disposal of rubbish as it enters the truck. The contents of those bins sometimes beggar belief. Not just plastic shopping bags, which we are told to put in the garbage bin, but dead cats and dogs, road kill, foul soiled clothing, kitty litter by the bucket load; the list goes on. Warnings and fines to the relevant household generally follow. But who is to say the pile of illegal muck in your bin wasn’t put there by some midnight traveller as your bin awaited an early morning pickup?
My friend believes the belt speed made it nigh impossible to sort effectively. The sorters were instructed to stop the belt only if syringes were spotted. A pretty tough ask since the rubbish is mounded up high. What lies below doesn’t bear thinking about. In his opinion the plant is obsolete in equipment and size, the sorting system impractical and there are no checks and balances in place. My friend is an intelligent person and I give credit to his judgement.
Although the shire sends residents an annual calendar with pickup dates and guidelines for separating rubbish, many ignore the instructions.
Still the main question remains with me: why do we need so much packaging in the first place? How can we shop in such a way as to reduce it? What happened to the idea for supermarkets to charge for plastic bags to reduce our reliance on them?
In Maude Barlow’s book Blue Covenant (2007), she refers to plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) derived from crude oil and other nasty chemicals that can leach from bottles into ground water. She says that, worldwide, 2.7 million tons of PET is used every year just for bottled water. Around the world, fewer than 5 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled. The remaining 95 per cent create mountains of garbage and foul our waterways.
It has always been a mystery to me how this industry ever got a hold on us. So many people carry these bottles around daily as if heading out to the Simpson Desert for a lunch date. It has become a fashion statement for many and that’s just how the bottled water industry likes it. How gullible are we?
South Australia, which has a container deposit system, recovers 85 per cent of glass soft drink bottles and 74 per cent of PET bottles against a national average of 36 per cent for both. Containers subject to a deposit account for less than 1 per cent of total litter in South Australia. So why don’t the rest of our states legislate to have one?
As a society we have two problems here and they are challenging ones: the first is how to avoid/reduce the packaging; the second is how to effectively recycle the packaging we cannot avoid.
Right now we are not very good at either. We need to find a better solution than just digging more holes.