Can you imagine a UK council collecting rubbish on a daily basis? Can you imagine the same council collecting recycled glass and paper on a weekly basis? Can you imagine people willingly separating their rubbish into glass, paper, plastic, tins, without ever being told to do so? This may not be the way things are done in the UK, but here in Spain it’s nothing unusual.
The government has been telling the people of the UK for many years that recycling is both important and necessary. Yet as a result of the collapse in the marketable value of recyclable waste due to the global recession, recycling warehouses are bursting at the seams with unprocessed, unwanted refuse. The storage costs are immense, and must naturally be borne by the taxpayer. It is quite likely, as this mountain of unwanted rubbish increases daily, that it will never be recycled as it will always be an economic to do so.
Waste experts have pointed out that the environmental impact of transporting vast amounts of refuse from its point of origin to some faraway recycling plant is greater than that of incinerating the rubbish locally. The financial cost of storing this rubbish mountain may be immense, but eventually the decision will have to be made to dispose of the waste. The most probable ways of disposing of the ways will be incineration or burying in a landfill site. These are the very things that the recycling movement has tried to avoid, and the very reasons that local governments have been able to persecute, fine, and impose ever more draconian penalties on normal citizens.
It seems bizarre that people in the UK are forced, under the threat of fines, criminalisation, or the introduction of pay-as-you-throw stealth taxes, to waste up to an hour of their time every week separating rubbish into different coloured bins, while I and those around me here in Spain happily recycle without the hint of a threat that to do so would be in any way illegal, or immoral. Admittedly, the large communal bins that stand on every street and every street corner, are often full to overflowing before the refuse collection commences. However, regardless of what or how much rubbish has been deposited in the bins it is always dutifully and carefully removed every day.
In Seville, the city in which I live, has its own unique recycling system. The system is both an official and widely accepted and appreciated. The system consists of bin prospectors; individuals or even families, who travel from bin to bin searching through the contents and removing anything even remotely of value. Metals are carried by the barrow load to metal buyers dotted around the city. Anything else of value can normally be found at one of the popular street markets held on various days throughout the week in different parts of the city.
People do not throw away clothes, nor old electrical equipment, nor furniture. Such items are left neatly beside the bins in a certain expectation that someone will come along who will be able to make use of them. In this way, very much that is of true value is ever actually taken away by the refuse collectors. The people can enjoy the moral certitude that whatever they have no further use of is likely to be put to the best possible use, and can also be sure that their lack of need will help provide for another’s needs.
I would imagine in the UK that anybody searching through somebody’s bin, looking for anything of value that would normally be thrown into a landfill site, would be immediately arrested for theft. Yet by accepting that refuse is a normal consequence of the workings of a rich society, by making it as easy as possible for people to dispose of the things they no longer need or want, and by encouraging those less fortunate to take advantage of others excesses, there might in the end be far less waste than at present.
No one complains when a large multinational company begins recycling computer parts or raking over the spoil heaps of minds in order to extract that which remains valuable, yet an individual showing such entrepreneurialism in the UK is immediately frowned upon because their lifestyle does not fit in with that to which the rest of the citizens aspire. Yet here in Spain people accept that bin prospectors will be sifting through the rubbish and do not look down upon them. Indeed, you will often see the careful way in which people make it as easy as possible for the same bin prospectors to carry out their “profession”.