I’ve just got back from a short trip to the UK. Each visit makes me feel more like a foreigner in my own country as I realise I no longer know how things work or what etiquette demands in certain situations.
Of course I still speak as if I was a ‘local’, so it must be odd for shop assistants to see me struggle to find the right change or ask for instructions when I pay by credit card with a UK ‘chip and pin’ card. (Spain doesn’t use the system and I tend to get in a complete knot.)
This trip, one thing that caught my attention was the rubbish system. Well, the System may be rubbish, but I suppose I really mean the way that the local council deals with waste collection.
It’s different everywhere, it seems, which each local council arranging to collect and recycle different materials in different containers on different days.
One area may give you a red box in which to put bottles, plastics (well, only certain, narrowly-defined, plastics) and paper; another may not touch any plastics at all, but be happy for you to put old clothes and shoes in a blue box; some places provide green bags for garden waste – though perhaps not ‘woody waste’, others allocate a green wheelie bin for all types of garden and kitchen waste. (I know of at least one area that didn’t use to allow anything but garden waste in the green bins: so, presumably, you could dispose of windfall apples, but not the cores of store-bought apples.)
Of course, the residents have to find space to keep the assortment of containers provided for their use. Perhaps very modern houses have suitable kitchen space, but if you have no garage, shed or utility room it’s not easy. Then, on collection days, pedestrians have to run the gauntlet of the bins and bags, whether they are lined up neatly across the width of the pavement by the neighbours, or tossed back in the general direction of the gardens by the dustbin men:
Of course, you must recycle. If you don’t, the council may issue a fine or stop collecting your rubbish. If nothing worse happens, your neighbours are sure to gossip about you behind your back: “he never puts out a green bag; he puts all the garden waste in the ordinary collection.”
I can’t help but think of the trial scene in Serial Mom where Kathleen Turner destroys a witness’s credibility simply by forcing her to admit she doesn’t recycle. It’s about half-way through the court scene, the whole of which can be viewed here, but if you haven’t seen the film I recommend you watch the whole thing.
Incidentally, there was a piece in the Independent on Sunday about
“Hilary Benn’s plans to dispense with ‘best before’ labels in an attempt to reduce the estimated 360,000 tons of food that is thrown away despite being perfectly edible.”
But that’s a-whole-nother kettle of – possibly putrid – fish.