Saturday, 28 March 2009

What Should We Do With Our Rubbish?

I went to Sainsbury today to pick up a few bits and bobs which are not stocked by our local ‘Happy Shopper’ (what a euphemism!), and because somebody mentioned it to me the other day, I took careful note of plastic bag use by my fellow shoppers.

Sainsbury has a policy, allegedly, wherein the store does not put plastic bags out on display, and only provides them if asked. The trouble is that my local store (Truro) makes an exception at the ‘hand-basket’ check-outs, so that if someone wants to nip through quickly with a couple of items, they are likely to use a plastic bag out of habit, because it’s there.

And on a Saturday, when the store is full and everyone is in a tearing hurry to get done, get home, get the TV on etc., the check-out staff seems to adopt the idea that time will be saved if they prepare several plastic bags in readiness for filling even though they are no longer displayed. Most of the shoppers I saw were using plastic bags.

I shall of course contact Sainsbury head office about this, and will expect the usual bland and reassuring comment in reply – I guess they see me coming!

The disposal of what is termed Municipal Waste is a subject which has occupied my mind for several years. On the basis that it has to go somewhere, I have involved myself with the local District Council (which ceases to exist on April 1st) in trying to promote recycling, and sensible waste collection policies. The bizarre situation has been that the Districts have been responsible for collection, and the County has been responsible for disposal. And the County Council, which also ceases to exist on April 1st, has taken a number of decisions in this and other regards with no consideration of public opinion whatsoever, in a way which has suggested the antithesis of ‘joined-up’ government.

One such decision, taken initially about 10 years ago, was to award the contract for disposal of Cornwall’s municipal waste to that well known champion of the environment, the French firm Sita. The contract is for 30 years, and Sita have made the assumption that they have the whole deal buttoned up, including the collection side of things, for the foreseeable future.

They may turn out to be wrong.

During the last decade, the County Council and Sita have been championing the idea of an incinerator, placed more or less centrally in Cornwall, to burn everything which cannot be recycled. I admit that when I first attended a presentation of the scheme given by an enthusiastic Council Officer, I thought it sounded pretty good. But over time I took the trouble to do a bit of research (which apparently the Council had failed to do) and it has become increasingly clear that the scheme was very deeply flawed on a number of different fronts – not least because technology has moved considerably since the initial contract was awarded. Something else which became clear was that the costings were based on very out of date fuel costs.

Imagine a long thin county with water on three sides (three and three quarters if you count the river Tamar). Then ask yourself the question, should all the waste be transported to a single point, or should it be disposed of more locally? I think that this is a no-brainer. On top of that, there are the health issues which are significant, the environmental issues, and the look of the thing (a 15 meter diameter 120meter tall chimney in the middle of the Cornish countryside, taller than the Statue of Liberty, on land already about 150 meters above sea level,) as well as the shear inefficiency of that type of plant when compared to other more environmentally friendly solutions.

Considering all the facts, I am amazed that Sita even bothered top put in a planning application. I am not amazed, but I am delighted, that the application was refused (you guessed it – by the relevant committee of that self-same County Council)!

And Sita does not have a plan B!

One could write a book on the implications of this decision, and of course Sita may appeal. Because the County Council and Sita have wasted so much time on this crazy proposal, we are a long way behind where we should be, and are running out of landfill space. The County is likely to be fined for not meeting targets, and someone will have to move very quickly to come up with an alternative scheme.

For years, some of us have felt a bit like those small puny kids at the back of the class who know the answers but can’t attract the teacher’s attention – “Please, miss, ask me! Ask me!”

Now at last, maybe they will ask us.

There are many good ideas out there – possibly too many. As my daughter said to me in a different context, ‘A watched clock never boils, and then three turn up at once!’

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