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.

The equality emporium

I am typing this from the BA Lounge at Heathrow Airport, waiting for the flight that will take me across the pond to Seattle-A and her boys for a glorious 10 days of ‘hanging out’.

As with all airport journeys I leave plenty of time to allow for a) North Circular and Heathrow spur traffic b) a less than fast Fast Track and c) breakfast and a spotty reading of the Financial Times. Today there was no traffic and Fast Track lived up to its name so I have plenty of time to dash off a little post.

This one is inspired by something I saw on yesterday and got me thinking about that equal pay question. You see this was about a pop-up shop called 76<100 where you ‘pay what you’re paid’. So if you’re a woman and you buy something in this Pittsburgh emporium, you pay only 76% of the price because that’s the gender pay gap in Pittsburgh. (Springwise reports that the plan is to expand this concept to New Orleans next where the store will be called 66<100 – you do the maths. You can find out more at

I’m reading all sorts of things in the media about women ‘issues’ – after all the suffragettes won the right to vote here in the UK a century ago and the general theme of all of these rallying cries is that we have not come so very far. The use of the word feminist is emerging in common parlance again after years of being tarred as the ‘other F-word’ and an election would not be an election in the UK without most of the parties bandying ‘women issues’ about as part of their appeal to the swinging voter (anyone see Labour’s pink campaign bus – I mean REALLY?)

For the most part it just sounds like noise to me and while I accept that there is still a gap to bridge, I just think that there are so many of these bridges to build and for so many of us. The problems of women’s representation on Boards and equal pay – while I do acknowledge their importance – pale when I think about the things I read, that I have never been exposed to – rape, ostracision, FGM, beatings and other torments seem a much greater problem to fix. And not just for women but for all groups who are at the ‘skinny end’ in the balance of society’s power.

And then last night I read the latest post from fellow blogging friend, Travelling Penn ( We worked together a long time ago – she has since retrained as a communicator for World Vision and travels to far-flung places to support aid efforts for the world’s poorest and most powerless. She has been posting on Facebook recently about the power of global aid efforts to help those affected by the earthquake in Nepal. Anyway, in her post she shared some numbers – 60 million people facing an humanitarian crisis, 36 million of those children.

It puts the notion of equality into a different light doesn’t it?

It is an overwhelming set of numbers and my friend writes about remembering the face of each child she has helped to avoid despairing as she tots up the columns. And I thought to myself, whatever the crisis of equality – whether it’s gender, sexuality, poverty, race, religion…the list goes on – the difference we make is really person by person and moment by moment.

So when next I am admonished to ‘step up’ and ‘lean In’, I will do just that. Because while I’m just one person, so are all of the people I come into contact with each day. And with a little extra from all the ones, I have to believe that it is possible to make a difference.



How does one become a butterfly?

Yesterday I went to see the movie Selma. It’s about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement’s defining march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery in 1965. It was hard to watch in places – the barbarity of humankind is a confronting thing to see – but at the same time, I also learned a thing or two and was particularly inspired by LBJ‘s involvement in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1968 through Congress. I had no idea that he actually did this thing that made such an enormous difference in his time as President of the United States (1963 to 1969).

Earlier this year, my boss confirmed that I had been selected to participate in our Leadership Development Programme and this week, I received a couple of books to read on Go MAD thinking (MAD stands for Making A Difference) as part of the preparation. Having arrived home from the cinema feeling somewhat sober and reflective, reading something called Go MAD: the art of making a difference really hit the right note.

So I’m reading Principle One: Have a strong reason why you want to go MAD, and on page 38 I read this:

How does one become a butterfly?

You must want to fly so much,

that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

It pulled me up short. I let my gaze hover over the words and felt my heart swell. It made me think of another quote I read years ago (attributed controversially to Guillaume Apollinaire) that over the years, I have scrawled on the inside covers of notebooks and scraps of paper at speaker events and conferences. It goes like this:

 Come to the edge, he said.

They said, we are afraid.

Come to the edge, he said.

They came.

He pushed them…and they flew.

There’s something about ‘flying’ that provokes feelings of being free for me. I jumped out of a perfectly good plane once – albeit attached to the front of someone more expert at it than myself – and during the exhilaration of the free fall, experienced an overwhelming sense of freedom and peace that I never wanted to end.

You could argue that I did this – flew that is – at least once more when I left my comfortable life in Australia and built this one here in London that I love so much. Strange accent aside, some might not see so many changes but deep down I know myself very differently from the 34-year-old who left Melbourne in 2004.

So how does one become a butterfly?

The butterfly doesn’t know exactly how the world outside its chrysalis will be. It just knows it needs to spread its wings to survive and thrive in whatever lies ahead. Over the last 6 months, I have also had a sense of a change coming. I haven’t known quite what this might be – a bit like the butterfly – but my gut is telling me to be ready. And by ready I really mean being open – to new ideas, ambitions and possibilities.

I’m calling this the Butterfly Principle – this preparing to take flight despite an unknown, uncertain future. It is fluttering gently around my thoughts and making me wonder what path I will carve out next. Will it be a continuation of the current one with a change just around the corner? Or will there be a fork in the road?

So I’m off to explore how I want to spread my wings and take flight. Who knows what’s going to be next? All I know is that I’m looking forward to finding out. And I’d love to hear what inspires you to fly.