It may seem hard to believe it, given the amount of litter one sees strewn on the streets of our towns and cities, but we are becoming far more responsible about the way we deal with the detritus of our throw-away socie
According to the local government association, we recycle 43 per cent of our household waste, which is a tremendous hike on the 13 per cent we recycled just over a decade ago, putting Britain on course to hit the European Union target of 50 per cent by 2020.
How to accelerate this praiseworthy trend – more carrots or more sticks? It is a dilemma confronting many local councils, such as Monmouthshire, which has angered some local people by setting strict limits on the number of general rubbish bags that it will take away in future: a mere two a fortnight.
Many are furious, saying that no one asked them whether they wanted to live in the strictest council in Wales in terms of recycling: Monmouthshire has set its own recycling target of 58 per cent, above the EU requirement, to be reached by 2015/16, before the EU deadline. Opponents have an arsenal of reasons about why it is a bad idea, starting with the increased danger of fly-tipping, which in turn will encourage vermin.
Councils certainly need to consult communities when they set restrictions of this kind. At the same time, simply encouraging people to recycle more of their waste may not be enough. We may feel consumed with virtue as we place our discarded newspapers and tin cans in the designated bins, but as a nation we will be in danger of running out of space to bury our garbage if we do not start recycling a much greater percentage. We recycle more than we did 20 years ago, but we are also buying and throwing out more things than we did then, so the gain is lost. Landfills are also expensive, hideous and environmentally hazardous.
Monmouthshire is on the right track. Getting tough on waste is not a wasted effort.