2 October 2011

Pandering to the m****s

At a time when services are being cut across the board, who in their right mind thinks it is a good idea to spend £250 million to enable a return to weekly bin collections. Money which could have been spent on supporting the most needy members of society, such as those with mental health problems or the elderly - see the Norwich Evening News story on Age UK's concerns about funding - will instead be used to allow people to avoid the arduous task of separating out their glass, plastic and paper for recycling. The government's own figures suggest that this will lead to a reduction in recycling, with 1.5 million tonnes of recyclable materials being sent to landfill instead.

The UK is already below average in the European recycling league, with a rate barely more than half the best practice achieved by Germany and we are set to get worse with government approval. But if we are to address our excessive carbon footprints we not only need to recycle more, even more importantly we must re-use things and reduce our overall levels of consumption. These though are messages you rarely hear from government because they run counter to the whole consumption led structure of our society.

Consume less and growth will fall, making governments look bad - but will we actually feel worse. Most research seems to indicate that ever higher levels of consumption have done little to make us happier, if anything the reverse has been true. So maybe it's time for us to get off that treadmill.

Maybe it's time we all started buying more second hand things, re-using others' cast offs rather than throwing them away and making new ones instead. In that vein it's nice to see that here in Norwich there has been a surge in the number of vintage clothing shops around the city in the last year or two. Maybe it's also time we rediscovered a degree of community spirit and borrowed more from our friends and neighbours. Nowadays most people have tools and other things which they use very infrequently, it would save us all money, and the carbon emissions associated with producing the goods, if we bought fewer things and shared more with others whenever they needed something.

Excessive consumption, and the waste it generates, is behind controversial local issues such as the proposed incinerator at Kings Lynn. Instead of planning to burn millions of tonnes of waste we should be seeking to avoid creating that waste in the first place. Build the incinerator and the incentive to reduce waste is removed - the council will be locked into providing a stream of waste to the operators and will have a vested interest in ensuring that waste stream isn't reduced.

The incinerator too raises one of the other absurd facets of modern government - the consultation process. Undertaken because it is the "right thing to do" rather than because the government, local or national, really wants our opinions, these consultations are a sham to legitimise a course of action already decided upon. Whether building an incinerator, new nuclear power stations, or it would appear, raising the speed limit on motorways to 80. We need to reduce our carbon emissions, so the government proposes a measure which is bound to increase them and lead to more deaths as a by-product. It brings me back to where I started: who in their right mind ....?

You may have thought the missing word in the title of this piece was masses, possible, but I was more thinking of morons.

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