Bottles, cans, unwanted presents - we're running out of room

Did you know that following our festive celebrations, around 3 million tonnes of unwanted Christmas presents were dumped in the bin. That's a hell of a lot of cardigans, socks and jumpers rudely disregarded as rubbish - and plenty of aunties and grannies left none-the-wiser.

Meanwhile, 750 million glass bottles and 500 million cans are binned, not to mention the tens of thousands of tonnes of uneaten food (brussel sprouts, no doubt). And where did all this rubbish end up? Holes in the ground, of course.

And this isn't merely a calendrical situation. Our landfill sites are at saturation point as a result of deficient recycling initiatives and a lack of alternatives, all the while having to cater for a largely wasteful society. And this is a huge problem.

According to Peter Jones, a director at Biffa, the contractor that collects waste for more than 50 local authorities, the current situation could cost Britain up to £8 billion. "Everyone is in for a rude shock," he says, and with ever tightening EU legislation and increased landfill taxes, he may have a point. Meanwhile, a new report by the Institution of Civil Engineers claims that a level of investment similar to that required to set up the motorway network is needed, to provide new waste handling and processing facilities. "The Government is going to have to bite the bullet," according to Vice Chairman Peter Gerstrom, who puts the price at £10 million.

So, what can be done? Encouraging the public to reduce, reuse and recycle is never easy. Although local recycling figures are getting slightly better, there are still too many of us that don't care what happens to our rubbish once the binmen have been. Recycling just hasn't been integrated into our culture and we are lagging far behind our European neighbours. Being bad at being green has become something of a tradition.

Just how far behind became apparent to me while I was in Switzerland last year. The Bern-Lausanne train offered on-board recycling, with separate compartments for cans, newspapers, and so on. The locals use the bins properly, material is sorted instantly, and disposing of rubbish in this way has become second nature. By providing 'green' bins on public trains, the Swiss have been educated into considering the environment. I stumbled across similar bins in a Finnish hotel room.

We're a very long way away from this level of efficiency. The Government isn't doing enough and has got to make commitments - the constant delays in implementing the WEEE Directive isn't helping matters. But I can't help thinking that maybe business has a role to play. By ensuring their employees are thinking about waste disposal (whether as a cost-cutting exercise, part of the social responsibility plan or otherwise), companies will inadvertently be encouraging staff to take best practice home with them.
Of course, unwanted Christmas presents will still be of concern. But let's face it, some traditions are here to stay.

TOM IDLE
EDITOR

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