It is understandable that Michael Reeves feels more than a little aggrieved at having to fork out £200 for misusing his local council’s recycling scheme (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_west/6058952.stm).
It is also possible to have sympathy with a local authority working hard to meet government recycling targets and attempting to educate local residents about the importance of such schemes.
Our national failure to embrace the recycling culture is criminal and local authorities should have greater powers to prosecute those who blithely ignore the schemes that are in place and that are often designed to be as easy and straight-forward as possible.
And yet, this particular case leaves a nasty smell. It appears that Mr Reeves was fined £100 and ordered to pay £100 costs after a single item of junk mail ended up in a recycling bag designed for bottles and cans. The council states that, under such circumstancees, the whole bag is deemed to be “tainted” and taken to landfill instead of being recycled.
I am not for one moment suggesting refuse collection and disposal is an easy job, but this seems an overly officious and heavy-handed approach to a very simple problem. We are talking about one letter after all, so how hard is it to remove the offending item and continue to recycle the remainder of the bag.
The council insists it has properly trained staff to spot such problematic bags, you have to wonder whether common sense is part of the training programme.
Mr Reeves was an easy target as his name and address were clearly displayed on the junk mail. He was bang to rights, it was an open and shut case. Yet the council has only succeeded in shooting itself in the foot with this prosecution. It would be interesting to discover how many serial offenders the council has successful prosecuted during the last couple of years – the information doesn’t appear to be readily available on the council’s website (http://www.swansea.gov.uk/).
The council has set an example of Mr Reeves, but has done itself or the case for recycling any favours in the process. It obviously cannot impose one rule for one and another for others. But it can be a little more flexible and less beurocratic in its approach.
Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, it is human nature. There is no indication that Mr Reeves has been a serial offender and one other incident – when he put a refuse bin out a day early as he was on holiday for the normal collection day – also smacks more of common sense on his part than malicious and unlawful disposal. Of course, it could be argued that Mr Reeves should have taken his rubbish to landfill, or simply waited until he returned from holiday.
However, these are relatively minor and trivial points when compared to the major problems facing this country. The disposable nature of our society is a national disgrace and collectively we have become too lazy to carry out even the simplest of tasks like disposing of recyclable material properly. Fly-tipping is epidemic in some parts of the country and not just of industrial waste, domestic and recyclable material is being illegally dumped on a daily basis.
The most worrying and depressing part of this particular court case is Mr Reeves comment that he has given up recycling altogether. One can have a degree of sympathy for such a comment, yet it is also fair to suggest he is guilty of the type of knee-jerk reaction that his local authority displayed in bringing the prosecution in the first place.
Too often too many people look for an easy excuse to carry out even the simpest of tasks – for some, it seems, dividing up recyclable material into different containers is an onerous duty that is either beyond or beneath their capabilities. This prosecution provides an instant excuse for such people – why recycle when you could end up £200 out of pocket?
Of course, it is never that simple. Yes, it appears pathetic that such a prosecution as brought in the first place – the time, effort and money the council expended on it should have been directed to improving education and awareness campaigns.
But there is a serious problem to be addressed here and opting for the easy get-out, abdicating yourself from all responsibility and displaying blind ignorance rather than common sense is even more pathetic.