What I mean, of course, is that I was confronted by waste.
For most of human history there has been very little waste. In his eye-opening book ‘Soil and Soul’ Alastair MacIntosh recounts how, until the 1960s (when I was born) there was no waste collection in most of the Western Isles, simply because it was not needed. There was no packaging to dispose of and that little waste which was left was pressed into use or left in the garden midden.
The rest of Scotland reached that point some decades earlier. Regular collections by the bin lorry became an umbilical cord for consumerism. Until the snow this winter, that is. My weekly bin collection was interrupted for three and a half weeks in December while council staff were, quite rightly, diverted onto clearing snow and pathways.
Personally, I was relaxed about this. I reckon our family of four creates enough waste to fill the bin about every six weeks. I even looked forward to testing our waste habits. However, I had not factored in the nocturnal activities of those of our neighbours who, finding their own bins full, used our empty-ish bin as a spillover. So, unfortunately, when the bin lorry finally made it over the ice, my wheely-bin was groaning accusingly like all others.
The Evening News today reports widespread concern about delayed bin collections and there is no doubt that there are potential health hazards here and a higher risk of rubbish simply being fly-tipped. But it is also an opportunity to think further about how we use waste.
I thought of our family as quite good. We recycle paper, cardboard, tins, glass and most plastic. Since taking a Kitchen Canny box last year, we have reduced food waste. What’s left goes to our compost bin or our bird table. Lemon and orange peels go on our small garden in a (mostly futile) attempt to dissuade the neighbourhood cats from using it as a toilet. We take an organic fruit and veg box each week, largely devoid of packaging. And we get our milk delivered in returnable glass bottles.
What’s left is a mixture of non-recyclable plastic and the occasional flotsam and jetsam of 21st century life. The only way to reduce further is to avoid waste in the first place: reduce packaging, buy goods which last longer (not always easy) or simply not to buy at all.
I know that the UK Chancellor will despair at such disloyalty to the needs of the consumer-led economy. But the binmen might be happy!