A blog by Nicky Clark of HEART Community Group
With the local elections just around the corner I was interested to receive a leaflet from our Local MP, Bim Afolami, a couple of weeks ago. A large, glossy, colour leaflet devoted entirely to the Labour-LibDem North Herts Council bringing in ‘the worst bin collection in the East of England’.
I find it incredible that this is the single most important issue to Mr Afolami at this very challenging time – these leaflets are not cheap (or environmentally friendly incidentally) to produce – and the only leaflet I’ve received since the last election! I subsequently received another large, glossy, colour leaflet from our local Councillor, David Barnard, on which plans to cut residual domestic waste collections back to three (or four weekly – which has never been proposed) are criticised. After having spoken to Cllr Val Bryant and Cllr Amy Allen about this, I feel I have to express my disappointment and frustration at the mis-information being circulated on this issue – purely for local election gain.
The only bin to be reduced is the purple bin, or landfill bin as we call it at home. There is a phrase that we have become very accustomed to over the years and that is ‘just throw it away’. However, there is no such thing as ‘away’.
Everything we have ever thrown away is still here in some form – hopefully biodegraded and safely feeding the soil, or recycled/reused – but anything bound for the purple bin will be either sitting in landfill, leeching chemicals into the earth; floating in our air, rivers and seas; ending up on the coastline of a pristine Pacific island or round the necks or inside the stomachs of our non-human relatives.
You would have had to have had your head snuggled firmly somewhere dark to have missed the photographic evidence of this. So why anyone wouldn’t want to decrease the amount of this type of waste is a mystery to me. Whether you are a nature lover or not, pollution is undeniably an enormous and growing problem that has to be dealt with urgently.
The consultation showed 49% said their purple bin was half full or less at collection time, and a whopping 84% want the council to do more to make people recycle more and reduce waste. An estimated 60 tonnes of carbon emissions will be saved, and £270,000 of savings a year to put towards other waste problems such as fly-tipping, the vast majority of which is trade or bulky waste and nothing to do with the purple bins.
None of this is planned until 2025, so we all have plenty of time to think about our packaging and waste choices and maybe make some small, but desperately needed changes. Alongside this, soft plastics will be recyclable in the grey bin, which will help, and of course support will be given to residents with specific waste disposal needs.
There is a deeper problem, however. I went to a conference held by Mr. Afolami in Harpenden back in September 2019 and throughout that event one thing that resonated with me was that not once were we referred to as citizens. Not people, nor families, communities or even human beings. We are purely consumers. At a climate conference!
The message I took away from Mr. Afolami’s conference was that he doesn’t see his constituents as people, and there is no connection with our place as part of a fragile natural system. Our one purpose is to consume, to justify the business of perpetual extraction of resources to be used and discarded to make money. (see ‘away’ earlier!)
And now the leaflet makes sense.
The consumer needs the purple bin. By reducing our consumption and subsequently our waste, we are not fulfilling our purpose. Keep the system flowing and we can become the ultimate consumers; not only of endless streams of gadgets, clothes and trinkets, but of micro plastics in the food we eat, herbicide and pesticides in our vegetables and water, chemicals in our homes and toxic pollution in our lungs and blood streams. In fact, following this model, the whole planet can hurtle towards Honourary Purple Bin status!
We are in a climate and biodiversity crisis and, whether we like it or not, changes are going to have to be made in order for us, and others with whom we share our beautiful earth, to thrive. If we can’t even imagine ourselves being able make one small decision to reduce waste that goes into one bin for one extra week, the future looks bleak.
Rather than consumerism, there are far better ‘c’ words we can aspire to – care, compassion, creativity, courage, conversation, community. Surely now isn’t the time for mud-slinging and divisiveness, but for encouragement to pull together through the difficult times ahead. And, when something doesn’t seem right, perhaps a suggestion of an alternative solution would be more constructive? It’s very easy to criticise – what we need is collaboration not division.
We need local leaders who hold us together, not push us apart. Instead of attacking fellow councillors with exaggerated accusations and insults, maybe look at the facts and try to support the initiative – or, if you really think there’s a better way, then please suggest it.
With this in mind, I would like to applaud the Labour/LibDem Council for making this brave decision. I know from our short conversation how difficult it must have been, and I truly hope people embrace the idea as a small, first step towards a cleaner, healthier and kinder future in North Herts.