A Lot Of Old Rubbish: Disposing Of Britain’s Waste Mountain:

Have you ever been to Quaglino’s, an upmarket restaurant in the St James SW1 area of London? If not, then you’ve missed out on the opportunity to sample it’s “brasserie-style menu”, among which is featured a Herefordshire beef fillet with green peppercorn sauce for a mere £39 and a 30 gram portion of Siberian Baeri caviar for a slightly pricier £75. While considering what to order for your main meal, you could sip one of their “classic cocktails” such as “El Sombreron”, which consists of “zacapa 23, lime and cantaloupe juice, sipsmith, sloe gin and fresh passion juice”, at a cost of £20.

However, you’d probably have to drink it directly from the glass. As the Evening Standard’s Consumer Business Editor, Jonathan Prynn, reported on 10th January, the owners, D&D London, which runs a total of 40 restaurants & bars, have banned plastic straws from all of their premises. D&D’s Chief Executive, Des Gunewardena, acknowledged to Prynn that he’d had no idea how many straws his staff had been giving out to customers (1.9 million in 2017). This move follows a similar decision taken last autumn by the national pub chain Wetherspoon (70 million a year) and in June by the All Bar One company (4.7 million a year). As Prynn pointed out “Plastic straws are seen as a particularly harmful form of waste because they are made from material that is very hard to recycle and their small size makes it difficult to stop them ending up in rivers and seas. Alternatives can be made from paper”.

The problem of what to do with our discarded plastic has, along with the pressure on NHS hospitals, has dominated the attention of the media during January – far more than Brexit, the Prince Harry-Meghan Merkle wedding in May and concerns about British tennis player Andy Murray’s hip injury. The Guardian columnist Sandra Laville observed on 5th January that many MPs are demanding the introduction of “a 25p extra charge on takeaway coffee in an initiative that could see disposable cups banned in five years time”. Laville quoted statistics provided by the House of Commons Environmental Committee which reveal that 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups are thrown away each year in the UK, almost 5,000 every minute, amounting to 30,000 tonnes of waste. Only 0.25% of them can be recycled, because most of them “are made from cardboard with a tightly bonded polyethylene liner, which is difficult to remove and means they are not accepted by paper mills”. Starbucks and Costa last year began to offer 25p discounts to customers with reusable cups and Pret A Manger have now doubled this to 50p on hot drinks “in an effort to change people’s habits and reduce waste”.

But why the sudden sense of urgency? What has really caused the panic reflected in newspaper headlines this month has been the decision by the Chinese government to ban the importation of rubbish not only from the UK but from several other developed countries such as European Union members, the USA and Japan”. In summer 2017, Guo Jing, an official at the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) informed the World Trade Organization that from 1st January 2018 his country would no longer accept 24 types of solid waste, including polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) bottles, unsorted scrap paper, discarded textiles and vanadium slag. This was – so Jing told journalists – all part of a campaign against “yang laji” (foreign garbage) “ which is loathed by everyone in China”.

The conservation photojournalist, Alex Hofford, has emphasized on “The Conversation” website that the impact of China’s decision will be far -reaching. Although other nations such as Malaysia and Vietnam also take in recycled plastic, their limited capacity won’t compensate for the lost Chinese market, which in 2016 processed more than half the world’s recycled plastic waste (7.3 million tonnes) – 500,000 tonnes of which was shipped from Britain.

What, asks Hofford, will now happen to all that waste? It’s a dilemma which, according to the Guardian’s environmental correspondent, Matthew Taylor, on 3rd January, is already creating a crisis for local authorities in the UK. He noted that Simon Ellin, the chief executive of the Recycling Association, “has already seen some lower-grade plastics piling up at recycling plants around the country”. Furthermore, because Britain has relied on exporting plastic recycling to China for 20 years, no-one knows what will now happen: If it no longer pays for his Association’s members to take and sort the waste delivered to them by the councils, they might stop accepting it altogether, which could then result in local authorities suspending their rubbish collections: “It could really lead to chaos”. In the opinion of Lee Marshall, chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (cited by Henry Bodkin of the Daily Telegraph), Councils will either have to increase taxes or cut waste services: “Neither will be popular: In some places in England, rubbish is already only collected once every three weeks”.

The LitterBins.co.uk website acknowledges that it’s understandable why many people don’t think about what happens to their rubbish once it’s been taken away. But if it can’t be recycled or incinerated, it has to go somewhere – usually to landfills: However, “that land has to be prepared first, to prevent decaying matter and bacteria leaking into water sources and causing health issues in the local area”.The European Commission has meanwhile issued suggestions as to how we can all be a bit less wasteful. Among them: Buy only the amount of fresh food you need and enjoy your leftovers by turning them into exciting new dishes, put your “non-meat scraps” into a compost bin and have your old, unwanted clothing shredded so it can be turned into packaging, insulation or raw material for textiles”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on January 15th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon

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