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Backyard choice: bins or begonias?

Friday 16 October 2009

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, shocked at plans to make every household in Britain have six waste bins, worries about his wife’s begonias – and discovers why his favourite trout stream is bung-full of old tyres

THERE was plenty to worry about this week in this once green and pleasant land, what with the House of Commons turning into a den of unrepentant thieves and every man, woman and child being lumbered with an alleged £50,000-worth of Government created debt. But my urgent concern was for the future of my wife’s beautiful begonias.

Like many houses in the Yorkshire Dales, where every square yard of land was coveted like gold, we have no garden to speak of but a useful backyard (which, of course, is why I have an allotment).

Backyard begonias, African marigolds and fuchsia.
Backyard begonias, African marigolds and fuchsia.

And that yard is chock-a-block, summer, winter and spring, was a rotation of plants, shrubs (and even a 10-foot high fir) in pots, tubs and planters which get bigger year on year as the plants grow and are potted on into the next size up: hand-me-ups rather than hand-me downs is perhaps the phrase.

Now this was fine until we got out first wheelie bin some 15 years ago. It was much bigger than our previous dustbin, which we rarely filled anyway, and it meant we lost the space for a bay tree, conveniently placed near the kitchen door so that a leaf or two could be plucked for culinary purposes.

We replanted the bay in the front garden, where it has thrived but is more difficult to reach, and sat back thinking that was a problem solved. Then, some five years ago, came another wheelie bin, a bright blue monster which clashed horrendously with my wife’s carefully selected floral colour schemes. That was sad but the real nuisance was that it was totally un-necessary.

It is meant for paper and cardboard waste and, being a journalist, I read lots of newspapers. This meant that for years, I had taken the papers to the recycling bins at the local supermarket, along with any bottles (we take the odd glass of wine from time to time). Never-the-less, another shrub had to go.

Any green vegetable matter from the kitchen, any garden waste front or back, has always gone into the three compost bins at my allotment. As we rarely eat anything tinned, what was left for the older wheelie bin was usually plastic – and an estimated 90% of this came in the form of quite unnecessary packaging from the supermarket.

I told the council that, no thanks, I didn’t need the new blue bin (which, incidentally, costs about £50 of ratepayers’ money and my small Yorkshire Dales council had to provide some 20,000 of them). But I had to have one, said the council, so I now take just my bottles to the re-cycle centre whilst they collect the paper which, I have been told, is shipped to China where they burn it!

So much for trying to bring down carbon emissions. Does it matter where the stuff gets burned – the gasses still goes into the same stratosphere? And how much diesel is used taking millions of tons of the stuff more than halfway round the world? That’s a pretty sensible question – but no-one in Government seems to have a sensible answer.

I told the council that, no thanks, I didn’t need the new blue bin...

Instead of building more efficient, high-temperature incinerators, or exploring methods of filling millions of cubic of disused coal mine workings with landfill waste – use the same machinery in reverse – the Government has now come up with a scheme which will cost them less but make us do a lot more work.

They want us to go for the totally insane target of “zero waste” by giving each family no less than six separate bins for food scraps, cardboard and plastic bottles, glass, plastic packaging, garden waste and what is left (presumably the last of the householder’s hair, which he or she has torn out in frustration as having to sort this lot).

In the meantime, we can all expect whopping council tax increases next year – especially in rural areas – as Whitehall forces innocent local councils to sell off assets to help pay for the squillions Gordon Brown has squandered.

Now I am not in favour, as I have explained, of people throwing out mountains of waste. In researching this article, I discovered that the UK dumps some 30 million tonnes of it every year in this way. And the drive to cut this figure comes, not from our Government, but from a series of EU directive’s going back to 1999.

It was one of these directives, in 2003, which solved a mystery which has puzzled me for years: why the upper reaches of the River Aire which I fish for trout are littered with hundreds – perhaps thousands - of old tyres, some in the crystal clear water, many more lining the banks.

In 2003, the EU banned the dumping of tyres in landfill sites. This Government provided no alternative method of disposal, so what happened? People just chucked them into the nearest river or fly-tipped them onto the nearest bit of farmland they could find.

Ten years after these first EU laws were introduced, this Government is scrambling to catch up (as usual) with panic measures that would make the ordinary householder responsible for Whitehall’s failings. The simpler answer would simply to force supermarkets and other retailers to cut back on unnecessary packaging. And then, perhaps, my wife’s begonias would have a future!

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