Opinion: recycle — is it or isn’t it?

No Planet B

By Peter Matthews

We had the annual work do at our house last week; and very pleasant it was too. My boss organised the catering and so a van arrived at about midday with a load of food in various packages and containers. We collected empty bottles in a crate and the rest went into the garage with everything else where it gets sorted on a Sunday night, in time to be put out for collection – if I remember to put it out.

This week I was sorting through the recycling and I found myself feeling dismayed by the sheer volume of waste which had been generated by our lunch. There were large thick tin foil platters for the meats – not hardy enough to be kept, but substantial enough to make me feel decidedly uneasy about throwing them away. Disposable cutlery, fair enough it was wood not plastic, but disposable nonetheless. Any number of large plastic containers for the salads – and I couldn’t find a recycling symbol so I didn’t know whether to put them in the bin with the yellow lid or straight into the yellow rubbish bag.

The temptation is often to put ‘undecided’ stuff into the recycling bin anyway, on the pretence that I am doing the right thing. But does that mean that someone is only going to pull it out and chuck it in the landfill further down the track? And who pays for that person?

Or, worse, does the presence of ‘undecided’ stuff which is actually unrecyclable taint the whole bin? All of which defeats the object of trying to minimise landfill and maximise recycling.

So it is clear, and I think, understandable that we the consumers are perhaps not best placed to make those decisions. Anyway if I get it right one day you’ll get it wrong the next and vice versa so the whole system fails.

It might make more sense for the manufacturers and suppliers not to thrust these materials so readily into the consumersphere. I understand the need for profit but do they not have a responsibility to be leaders in the quest for sustainability?

Anecdotally I have spoken to many people who will not buy mince pies and muffins from Countdown in Cambridge simply because of the excessive plastic packaging in which they are presented. Six mince pies disappear in minutes but the tray persists for decades.

And single serve breakfast drinks – where is the justification for that much waste? Must we have such convenience? That’s why we have a problem: Gratification now but the cost goes on for ever. Eat now pay later, and not just with your waistline.

I have left my “Only Planet” card at Countdown in Cambridge on three separate occasions in recent months with a request for the manager to call me to discuss this very issue. Unsurprisingly, I have yet to receive a response but I will continue to leave my card there until I do. I’ll let you know what the response is when I get it.

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