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There are ways to tackle litter

July 16, 2018 7:16 AM
By Nick Eden-Green in Kentish Gazette

Submitted to the Kentish Gazette for publication by Nick Eden-Green - July 2018

Plastic bottles for recyclingWhen I was a kid we didn't have much of a litter problem. Nobody bought bottled water when tap water was free. Soda pop - and later - beer and cider came in deposit bottles. Milk was in returnable glass bottles. Takeaways had barely been invented and sandwiches came in brown paper bags. Has western culture really advanced so far?

I'm not saying we should go back there but if we change our eating and drinking habits then we have to change our rubbish habits too.

At the City Council there has been much recent chatter but little action on rubbish related issues. Sure, they have got rid of one trip plastic cups from the water coolers and stopped selling drinks in plastic bottles, offering free water top ups instead to anyone with a container. But that's about it.

They might take a leaf out of the more radical approach being followed by Penzance, Bristol, Brighton or Totnes who are really trying to go plastic free by getting retailers to stop selling drinks and food in one trip plastic containers in the first place.

Conservative councillors are fond of the mantra 'user pays' which they trot out whenever they increase the charges for any council service. Car parking charges going up. The motorist pays. Increased charge for removing your old washing machine. Householder pays. It even happens when you pop your clogs because when funeral costs go up you become a user so in death you pay.

So why can't the Conservatives get their own government to adopt the same policy on rubbish? Why can't we have a deposit scheme on all one trip drinks containers? That way the people who buy them would pay to dispose of them unless they recycled them properly to get their money back.

Ten years ago I visited British Columbia. One of my first sights in Vancouver was seeing the local street drinkers collecting any bottles and cans from the street and putting them into sacks on the back of the old bikes they pushed around. British Columbia charges a deposit for all one trip drinks containers - cans, plastic and glass bottles - water, wine, beer, spirits - the lot.

Yes, the local winos clean the streets. It's absolutely brilliant. Vancouver is largely litter free so the residents are happy that they get free street cleaning. The local street drinkers are happy because they have an evening of alcoholic oblivion when they cash in the proceeds of their days work.

In Germany the approach is, of course, based on machines. You pay a deposit and the empties are put down a chute in the supermarket which reads the barcode and gives you a credit at the till. All very Teutonic and efficient but a bit less inventive than the Canadians.

Meanwhile we do nothing except wring our hands and pay SERCO £000's to pick up the litter in our streets or empty our recycling bins.

Some 15 years ago my fellow Lib Dems and I lobbied for the banning of free plastic bags. I even put a motion to the council which the Conservatives voted down. But finally, after mounting public pressure, the government saw sense and initiated a charge for one trip plastic bags. Lo and behold, usage has dropped by 95%. Isn't it time we had a deposit scheme for all drinks containers? It isn't rocket science. We just copy what others have been doing for years. Can we please do it now because it would be good to have a change from all the backstabbing over Brexit.

Finally, a confession. Personally I hate recycling. It's a bore and a nuisance and I'd much rather not have to do it at all. So my next crusade is to stop manufacturers creating waste in the first place with all their unnecessary packaging. Why do some biscuits come in a cellophane pack and then a box. Or shampoo in a bottle and a box - or toothpaste - just go round a supermarket or a chemist and look at all the unnecessary packaging we have to dispose of. Don't even get me going on fruit and veg in cling wrap and polystyrene. Let's see what we can do to stop it at source because if we all pressed for change then perhaps we could get change for the better and create less waste in the first place.