Julia Stephenson: Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

I've just experienced (I think "celebrate" is putting it too strongly) another birthday, and this year I really did try to have a green one. I generally forget everyone else's birthdays, so most forget mine. I don't really like receiving presents - as an anally retentive Virgo my special needs are far too obscure for a normal person to understand. I'd much rather have an "experience" than some terrible over-packaged thing or gadget. The thought of being given something that comes with a manual, like, say, a camcorder or DVD would stress me out horribly.

However as I gave my squeeze the unusually generous gift of two stonkingly expensive tickets to watch Arsenal (boring, cold but a suitably green "experience" gift involving no packaging or energy usage except that expended as I strain to keep awake), he felt compelled to give me something I'd really like. I hinted that a trip on the London Eye and a good dinner would be more than enough.

It was, but, unfortunately there was more. Several huge boxes (expertly wrapped, I must admit, in eco-friendly old newspapers), appeared. A tiny slither of a DVD player eventually emerged from a plastic bag, inside a box, inside more plastic so impregnable I needed a knife which cut my thumb, leaving a river of blood all over the floor. From another vast box emerged a tiny camcorder, engulfed in a similar amount of packaging. There was also a strange bra containing so much air it would save my life if I drove a car.

At least S will really enjoy the presents - the DVD player means he can watch movies at my flat, and he's wanted a camcorder for ages. As for the bra - it's currently swinging from the trellis on my patio deterring pigeons from dumping on my organic tomato patch.

Unfortunately all the presents came with reams of totally unnecessary packaging. Most of this unrecyclable rubbish is on its way to the landfill but I'm cheered by the news that some councils are secretly monitoring our shameful waste habits with secret bugs. So James Bond!

Of course there are the usual photographs of outraged householders who fear councils will monitor their waste and charge householders for leaving out unrecyclable rubbish.

But what's not to like? Anything that makes us think twice about buying over-packaged products and encourages us to recycle and compost must be encouraged. The Government could help by penalising excess packaging. They'd raise a fortune.

"But it will infringe our human rights," people cry! Nonsense. If we continue to recycle a paltry 18 per cent of our vast rubbish mountain we'll need to build many new incinerators to cope. The British Society for Ecological Medicine warns that incineration creates toxins that enter the food chain, causing chronic illnesses. The ash is highly toxic too.

Having one of these belching, carcinogenic towers down your street will infringe your human rights - to clean air, pure food and good health - far more than the odd bug on your bin.