In a move that puts it on a par ~ in this respect at least ~ with most progressive cities in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the Johannesburg Municipality has decreed that residents must separate their waste for recycling.
Needless to say, this has sent the chattering class into a frenzy as it spews forth volumes of hot air about “why?” and “we pay our rates and taxes for this” and “it’s another excuse for corruption” and ….
And, yes, there are certainly old or frail citizens for whom the burden of recycling might be a bridge too far. But for the vast majority of Joburg residents it shouldn’t be too much to ask to separate recyclable waste from the wet and contaminated waste that should end up in a land-fill or an incinerator.
And here’s a thought for Joburg residents bemoaning the new edict: they should be thankful they don’t live in a German, or a Swiss, city where not only has recycling been a compulsory requirement for decades now, but there are different classes of recyclable waste, strictly segregated, and woe betide you if you get it wrong and inadvertently put a newspaper in with the cardboard, or a brown bottle in with the green. With Teutonic efficiency you will be found out, prosecuted and punished. And here’s the best part: you will be named and shamed and will also face the scorn of your community for having been such a useless, thoughtless, careless “klutz”.
Yes, waste has become a Big Issue. Only if you had been in a coma for the past three or four years would you have been unaware that the oceans have become huge receptacles of floating (and gradually sinking) plastic waste, much of which is eminently recyclable, but which is now far beyond the reach of anybody who can realistically and economically do anything about it.
Only if you had been in a coma for the past three or four years, too, would you have failed to notice that Gauteng’s streets, pavements and fences are generally less festooned and littered with discarded yellow and white plastic shopping bags ~ the ubiquitous “checkers” ~ than they were a few years ago, thanks to the government levy on bags supplied by supermarkets and shops.
Likewise, you would have had to have been in a coma for the last few years not to have noticed the growing numbers of freelance recycling collectors eking out a living towing trolleys of plastic, paper, glass and board around the suburbs on garbage collection day, stuff which they have ferreted out of the dustbins of residents too lazy to recycle themselves. “There’s money in muck,” is an old Yorkshire saying.
So, given the waste problem faced by all on Planet Earth, recycling your waste, or at least separating it for recycling, should be second nature and is a good lesson in environmental stewardship to inculcate in your children. So if you are not already recycling you are actually not the kind of caring citizen this country desperately needs.
And the excuse that “I don’t recycle, because I let the waste pickers help themselves to the contents of my dustbin” doesn’t count. For there’s a helluva lot of waste in your dustbin that could have been recycled had it not been contaminated by food scraps, animal blood and the other wet, unsanitary stuff you’ve thrown away.
But maybe, just maybe, reading this will jolt you out of your slothfulness and shame you into changing your ways. What can you do, and how do you do it?
Simple, really. As you live on a plot you have plenty of space to store and process recyclables. We have written extensively about making your own compost, a valuable ingredient of which is all the organic matter generated in your kitchen. And we have written extensively on what packaging can easily be recycled in the home.
The trick is to recycle at source, rather than to wait till it’s in the dustbin.
And if you are already recycling your waste, there are a couple of additional things that an active citizen should be doing, starting with lobbying your municipal councillor to introduce similar legistation to Joburg’s in your municipality, and also insisting that the shops you buy from supply only environmentally-friendly packaging. For example, ask a restaurant for a paper, rather than a plastic, straw in your drink. Or ask for a paper shopping bag, or refuse the offer of a plastic one.
In that way, one shop at a time, you will make a difference. And, gradually, the environment, and wildlife, will be saved, one stream at a time, then one river at a time, then one fish at a time, one turtle at a time and, eventually one ocean at a time. But it starts with you. At home, in your car, at a restaurant, in a shop. One piece of recyclable waste at a time.