Is recycling a duty and not a choice?

30th January 2012 Posted by

For those who watched the new BBC series Toughest place to be a bin man, you could not escape the irony of the slogan proudly painted on the side of the Hammersmith and Fulham Council refuse collection vehicle.

It stated, ‘Recycling is a duty not a choice’. Well yes, perhaps it is in the cosseted world of central London. However, it is a necessity for many thousands of people living in Asia who scrape together a living from picking through decaying waste.

A polluted beach in Indonesia

For Wilbur Ramirez, a UK bin man for the last five years who was sent to Asia, the reality of the third world with its disparity of social equality came as a real shock. Why don’t you organise and create a union, negotiate with the customers for a fairer wage and why won’t the council collect regularly, Wilbur exclaimed. I’m with Wilbur on this one. It shouldn’t take a BBC film to bring out the social conscious of the wealthy politicians of Indonesia, who promised fairer conditions to camera.

One can’t help wondering where the hand of the State is in this sanitation nightmare?

With the local rivers being constantly polluted and the potential spread of disease a continual problem for those from the ‘wrong’ side of town, simple organised collections taken to rudimentary sorting stations and disposed of at controlled landfill sites would be of benefit for all. The State could employ the present scavengers and bin men and could improve the sanitation of their Capital city, removing the further potential of environmental catastrophe. However, sadly, they don’t as they don’t have the same social or environmental system as Europe.

Here in Europe we moved on from this sanitation argument many years ago with the passing of laws to protect the environment. It is not ‘necessity’ that drives our agenda, but a sense of environmental conscious that we must ‘do the right thing’. We pass laws, create targets and stimulate behavioural change through fiscal instruments, such as tax, to constantly improve the local environment we live in. Meanwhile, other areas of the world continue to allow the economics of poverty to manage their future.

Let’s hope it is economic prosperity and collective common sense that eventually starts to improve the lives of the bin men and the environment in developing Nations and not an environmental disaster.

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