Thomas Sutcliffe: I've become a convert to the cult of recycling

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The Independent Online

The EU's recent report on recycling rates suggests that the Government has a long way to go before it can persuade us all of the virtues of rubbish-sorting and bottle-washing. Well, if it's any consolation to whichever Trash Tsar is in charge of this particular initiative, you can tick me off your To Do list. I'm persuaded. Perhaps converted would be a better word, though.

When Haringey changed over to wheelie-bins (prompting a minor boom for the builders of brick bin houses) they also issued a family of new receptacles for detritus that might be born again. There was a little black one for food scraps (accompanied by a teeny counterpart to sit on the draining board); there was a green box for cardboard, glass, plastic and cans; and there was a big (and hopelessly optimistic) sack for the garden cuttings and weeds I'm expected to harvest each week.

And, almost overnight, I found a faith. I observed the rituals meticulously - rinsing cans and milk cartons, stacking newspapers and rescuing plastic bottle tops which had inadvertently been consigned to the murky depths of the irredeemables bin. Indeed, like quite a lot of late-life converts, I exceeded in zeal even those who had brought me into the faith - carefully separating the debris of modern consumer life into its component raw materials, and only giving up the practice when I saw the binmen heaving my religiously segregated bags into the same hole.

That I was (and am) in the grip of a superstitious conviction I don't doubt. I have no hard proof that the world is better off as a result of my devotions and have never felt the need to acquire any. I just feel a pleasing sense of virtue as I fold up the cereal box and marshal the wine bottles - a feeling so powerful that I've actually caught myself noting proudly just how much recycled material I've managed to accumulate in a week, obviously a heretical error for any devout recycler.

I even feel the twinges of doubt which are part of every conversion experience. If the creator of this scheme really had intended me to recycle, then how come the box which will end up containing the bulk of my rubbish is a sixth the size of the bin provided for non-recyclables (or sinful rubbish, as I tend to think of it)? And does an observant life really mean I have to live with a kitchen that sometimes looks indistinguishable from a rubbish dump itself?

The biggest challenge to faith, though, is the nagging sensation that I have been coerced (or seduced or brainwashed, whichever you prefer) into solving a problem that actually has its origins elsewhere. True, I enjoy the fruits of an advanced consumer society and thus bear some responsibility for the mess it leaves behind it. But I don't recall ever insisting that those fruits should be so elaborately wrapped.

I don't always bother with bags when I go to the greengrocer, unless it's hopelessly impractical not to use one (they have a sense of humour failure at the till if they have to pick two pounds of button mushrooms out of your basket one by one) but that's not a choice I can make with an enormous range of goods.

Indeed, if the Government really wanted to meet its recycling targets it could achieve them overnight by financially penalising excessive packaging or charging some modest deposit on all cans, bottles and boxes. If rubbish had a price that matched its cost we wouldn't have to rely on the unreliable pieties of householders to clear it up properly.

How Keith can clear the smoke

I imagine Keith Richards' reaction to the news that he won't be fined for lighting up at the Rolling Stones' Hampden Park concert will be one of profound indifference. It would have been an expensive smoke if Glasgow City Council had prosecuted - but hardly beyond his means.

In any event, Keith has now established a precedent that no self-respecting bad boy can fail to match - so eventually, one assumes, die-hard smokers (and was the adjective ever-more appropriate) will get their day in court.

When it comes the defensive line is surely obvious - these are not cigarettes, they are special effects - as indispensable to the aura of Dionysiac excess as fireworks and bursts of flaming propane.

* One imagines that the passengers for the Comair flight that crashed in Kentucky went through all the usual security procedures. And then, passed as secure, they fell victim to a muddle over runways, despite the fact that there were only two to choose from.

The 49 dead bring the total of people killed in airline crashes this year to 501, the majority of them - along with everybody else who dies in air crashes - the victims of human error, whether in the cockpit, the maintenance bay or the control tower. And yet I doubt that this incident will discomfit flyers even a fraction as much as one that never happened - the planned terrorist attacks on US airlines. If anxiety took any account of actuarial statistics, the people we'd be nervous about would be the well-intentioned guys in peaked caps - not that odd-looking man in 23F.

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