The hole in the ground

‘Refuse collection day’ in my borough falls on a Friday and lately, as I have begun my daily commute with its regular 10 minute walk to the station, I’ve noticed that the local recycling trucks have had a bit of a spruce up.

barnet recycle truck

You might think that this is a weird thing to notice but recycling is something that’s close to my heart and it’s come a long way since my arrival in London more than eleven years ago. Back then, I was shocked by the absence of the kerb-side collection infrastructure I had been used to in Melbourne, where I happily separated my rubbish into separate bins and blithely ‘left it out the front’ for weekly collection.

When I arrived in New Cross in 2004, there was no kerb-side recycling in place and for the year I lived in Brentford, I spent much of the time cleaning up the ‘burst’ rubbish bags from the pavement right outside our front door (the efforts of either foxes or patrons of the pub down the road). My six and a half years in Kingston-Upon-Thames saw the arrival of a ‘recycling bank’ at the local Sainsbury’s supermarket (which would have been bit of a nuisance without a car) followed by the gradual introduction of a kerb-side service, the footpaths on ‘rubbish day’ becoming cluttered with all manner of bins and bags (with about five different containers supplied to separate all of the different materials in). 

In England we recycled, reused or composted just 43.5% of our waste in the year up to November 2014, a measly 0.3 percentage point increase over the prior year. That means that more than half of what we throw away ends up in a big hole in the ground (aka landfill) and if the new truck livery is to be believed, Barnet (my local area) has been behind the pack at 40%.

So it was a heartening sign for me to see the commitment to a significant 25% improvement from the Borough. But it’s not just the council who has to stack and separate the myriad of recyclables from week to week but all of us who live in the community. And that’s why I am loving the smart simplicity of their message.

I saw the ‘50% by 2016’ on a street poster by the tube station entrance earlier this year and then snapped the trucks – out and about on local streets week after week – about 7 weeks ago. And then this week, walking home from the tube, I saw this on the main road…

Barnet recycling street poster July 2015

Granted, this only addresses the rubbish at home and I am struggling to remember where I’ve seen any bins for separating rubbish ‘types’ while out and about but to my mind, a concerted effort in any area can only contribute towards lessening that big hole in the ground.

In checking out the current statistics Down Under, I noticed that Australia’s recycling rate of 64.2%, one of the highest recycling rates in the world (in Europe, Austria leads with 63%) has plateaued over the last couple of years so even our best is still leaving more than a third of the waste we generate for the planet to ‘deal with’.

There’s quite a lot of noise around Zero Waste (to landfill) initiatives in the business world and given the stats I’ve looked at as background to this post, I’m not sure how on earth we’d ever be able to extend that philosophy out into the general community. But this truck that trundles down my street each week has reminded me that every little bit makes a difference and I have resolved to renew my efforts in not just recycling what I use, but also to look at using ‘less’ in the first place.

Commuting Gems…Recycling’s Foot Soldiers

Sometimes inspiration come from the most unlikely places.

Tucked into my seat on the train earlier this week, flicking through The Metro with the patter of raindrops on the window in the background, I came across this…

No it’s not a version of MJ’s Bille Jean video souped up for the cyber generation. It’s actually the latest and greatest in the harvesting of natural energy sources.

Pavegen is the brainchild of Laurence Kemball-Cook, a young British entrepreneur who has combined a recycled rubber and polymer mix with a hybrid kinetic energy-harvesting system. Stepping onto the ’tile’ generates between 5 and 8 joules of electricity – a small percentage of this is used to the light the tile while the majority is either stored in a battery or powers the surrounding area.

It might sound like small potatoes but Kemball-Cook took a Pavegen dancefloor to Bestival last year where the grooves of 50,000 festival-goers charged 1,000 mobile phones. They have been installed (Pavegen that is, not the festival-goers) permanently at a school and more recently at Westfield Stratford City.

It’s extraordinary and exciting stuff. Imagine…our ‘energy output’ collected and tranformed into a unique – and boundless when you think about it – source of electricity. 

Brings a whole new meaning to the term recycling, doesn’t it?

Part Of The Plan?

I am reliably informed that today, aside from being Good Friday (and a good Friday it is here in the English sunshine), it is International Mother Earth Day.

Established in 2009 by the General Assembly, its aim is to:

“…promote[s] a view of the Earth as the entity that sustains all living things found in nature. Inclusiveness is at the heart of International Mother Earth Day; fostering shared responsibilities to rebuild our troubled relationship with nature…”  General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann

 …and it was this ‘troubled relationship with nature’ that I was thinking about on my commute home last night.

In the first four months of 2011, we have seen nature at her most fearsome – earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, tornados just to name a few – and many reports suggest that these events are random or at least illogical in nature.  We don’t expect them and particularly given the catalogue of tragic events during the first part of this year, we can’t understand how and why everything is happening ‘at once’. 
Is it really our impact on the environment, changing the climate, that unleashes nature’s fury?  Is Mother Nature really coming home to roost?
But, I thought, what if we turned this thinking around? What if this is all part of some greater scheme?  That Mother Nature is so much bigger and grander than we can ever contemplate and we, despite all of our blinkered self-absorption, are just tiny pieces of a much, much greater puzzle?

What if it’s really just all part of the plan?

Something to think about…