Category Archives: Nature

Recycling: the seagulls are still circling

As someone who makes frequent visits to my local council rubbish dump – sorry, recycling centre – I’m frequently reminded by the calls of the seagulls circling overhead of the crying shame of our ever-growing mountains of waste.

The problem of landfill continues to grow at a speed far too close to the rate at which we’re consuming packaged products. 23.6 million tonnes of waste were produced in the UK in 2016/17, according to Defra. In a perfectly re-cycled world, there would be no seagulls above landfill mountains.

A report issued by the UK’s National Audit Office earlier this month warned that much of the waste we put into our recycling bins doesn’t in fact get recycled. In the report, the NAO comments:

“Reducing waste and using resources more efficiently are long-standing objectives for the government, and tackling packaging waste is essential to achieving these ambitions”.

I couldn’t agree more. And neither, no doubt, would Athelstan Spilhaus, writer of an article entitled “The Shape of Things to Come”, which appeared in Reader’s Digest way back in August 1970:

” … industry so far is doing only half its job. It performs magnificent feats of scientific, technological and managerial skills, taking things from the land, refining them, and mass-manufacturing, mass-marketing and mass-distributing them. But then the same mass of material is left, after use, to the so-called public sector, to be ‘disposed of’. By and large, in our society, the private sector makes things before use, and the public sector disposes of them after use. There must be a loop back from user to factory, which industry must close. If industrial genius can mass-assemble and mass-distribute, why cannot the same genius mass-collect, mass-disassemble and massively re-use these same materials? If industry were to take upon itself this task, its original design of “things” would almost inevitably include features facilitating their return and re-making. If, on the other hand, we continue to allow the private sector to make things and the public sector to dispose of them, designs for re-use will not easily come about”.

However, here we are, nearly fifty years later and the future has arrived, without Spilhaus’s dream having anywhere near come true. Things have moved on to an extent, of course. We have regulations on the initial sorting of household waste via different coloured local authority collection bins; recycling centres and processors have made vast strides technologically; since the passing of the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 act, we have had Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs), which provide evidence waste packaging material has been recycled into a new product; and, according to recent data from Defra, 46.7% of household waste is being recycled.

But a recent study suggested that in the UK packaging producers pay only 10% of the cost of recycling, much less than in many other countries. And the NAO report makes clear that too much of our waste is evading the system and being shipped abroad, with too little control on what happens next – for instance, what proportion ends up in landfill. Environmentalists are calling for PRNs to be toughened up. They want to see packaging producers and supermarkets being made to make much more use of recycled materials, with more insistence on ‘closed loop’ recycling, where packaging materials are returned to the manufacturer and re-used within a continuous loop of production, usage and recycling. And, maybe most important, they want to see the building of a whole new domestic industry, with associated employment opportunities, by keeping waste products in the country and making it cost-effective for manufacturers to use home-produced recycled materials. Experts suggest that manufacturers would absorb costs in such a system.

So, forty-eight years on, the seagulls still circle above the landfill mountains; the polluter is yet to really start paying for the huge stream of waste being dumped and pumped into the environment; and an effective solution to the recycling conundrum is still part of The Shape of Things to Come.




Picture credit: colin grice [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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The not-so-funny ha-ha

One of the worrying consequences of Donald Trump’s Great Wall will be its effect on wildlife. A recent piece in Scientific American mentioned that wolves, ocelots and even jaguars have been seen along the existing border walls. “Environmental groups say that migration corridors are crucial for the recovery and survival of wildlife along the border”, declares the article.

The piece also mentions the fact that architects have referred to the wall as a “pharaonic project”. It’s as though Trump, like the Pharaohs and their pyramids, sees it as his right to build a vast structure to memorialise his reign as supreme leader of the USA; indeed, it’s almost as though he feels he now owns the USA.

And it’s only natural to want to protect one’s property, of course. Somehow I doubt whether Mr. Trump is too concerned about the ramifications of his proposed barrier for border wildlife, given his apparent lack of concern about environmental issues generally.

But, funnily enough, when I read the Scientific American article my mind drifted back to a school trip … and a day when I learned that some people need to keep animals out of their territory.

Every summer, two or three coachloads of boys and girls aged around ten would set off from our school to visit various places of historic or cultural interest – museums, wildlife parks, a picturesque place at the seaside. I remember a wonderful afternoon’s rock-pooling in Aberavon, for instance – that kind of thing. Isn’t rock pooling fun, by the way? It’s enjoyed all over the world, as here by some young people in New Zealand.


On this particular occasion, we visited a large and quite ancient stately home.

Our guide was very knowledgeable but regrettably her pronounced stutter was the cause of a great deal of giggling by our young party, much to our teacher’s embarrassment and annoyance. There was a very fine collection of p-p-p-paintings, for instance. And I remember that she showed us the underground i-i-i-ice house, which, intriguingly, was where food was kept fresh through the winter.

Owners of stately homes in England and (as in this case) Wales have used a variety of methods to keep out intruders. But not all intruders are of the human variety. The incursion of animals, especially deer and sheep, can be a big problem, apparently, which is why the land closest to the house is often surrounded by a long, grassy, wall-backed trench, like this one in Farnley Park, Leeds.


Anyway, as time passed the mirth continued to spread like waves across the gathering, growing with every verbal hiatus, as the poor lady’s face became increasingly flushed and our teacher almost apoplectic with rage. We were a cruel bunch!

haha3But things were about to come to a hilarious climax, as we arranged ourselves along the trench that surrounded the house.

“And this”, announced our guide, “is the house’s h-h-h-h-ha-ha-h-h-ha-ha-ha!” – at which point everyone fell about in complete hysterics.

I’m pleased to report that both our long-suffering guide and the teacher shared in the hilarity, in a small incident that has stayed in my memory ever since.

Image credits: rockpools – By Dhartley (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha – Steve Partridge [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha wall sign – By Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Filed under History, Humour, Nature, Stately homes and picnics