This article first appeared in Malta Today
The separation of organic waste is a very good idea, and the fact that it is going to be obligatory, and subject to a fine if not done, is even better. In fact, I think that all waste separation and recycling should have been made mandatory a long time ago, because expecting everyone to do it out of their own free simply did not work. I have found that when you leave it to people’s discretion to care for the environment (or to obey any rules for that matter) they just won’t.
Some say that this apathy and indifference is a cultural thing, of the laid-back, Mediterranean type variety, and there might be something to that. Give us a specific time to show up, and many will leisurely stroll in any time between 15 minutes and even up to an hour late, and then wonder why those who were punctual are giving them dirty looks. You then get a nonchalant comment such as, “U iva…you said 9pm, and it’s only 9.20pm, so what’s the big deal?” Meanwhile the punctual ones are having mini-strokes and aneurysms from the stress of being forced to wait.
The unwritten codes of social behaviour can also lead to frustration for those who abide by them, when faced by so many who do not. Tell those in a hospital waiting room to form an orderly queue so that they will be called in according to their appointment, and this instruction is completely ignored as they gather round at the door, pushing and shoving and almost trampling the hapless security guard in the process.
Traffic signs might as well be roadside decor, and it is probably time for a large percentage of drivers to be sent back to driving school to learn how to manoeuvre around a roundabout, how and when to overtake, and to appreciate the real significance of indicators.
So, it’s true that on the whole, too many people consider rules an exasperating annoyance which are there to be broken or ignored. We are, on the other hand, quite adept at finding loopholes to get around the rules or, what is even more typical, we are completely convinced that the enforcement won’t really happen. “I know it says No Parking, but come on, really? As if they are going to clamp my car” (followed by much gnashing of teeth and the posting of outraged FB posts when they do).
Which is why I believe that the only real way to crack the whip on environmental protection (or anything requiring a modicum of civic discipline) is to come down hard by telling people that they have to do it, coupled with hefty fines and strict enforcement. While there are several systems in this country which just don’t function as they should, rubbish collection is not one of them. We simply do not appreciate how well it works (when everyone follows the rules), considering the fact that it is absolutely free and there are different types of bags being collected on a daily basis. The fact is that if you separate your waste diligently you will find that by the time you remove the bulky packaging of plastic and carton, and wash out your bottles and tins, what you have left with is a relatively small amount that goes into your black bag. Small construction waste can be taken to amenity sites free of charge, while bulky items are collected from in front of your door against an appointment. Small electronic items such as broken hairdryers and old mobiles can be dropped off at your local council. I always wonder how some people do not know these things, and express surprise when I tell them. There is loads of information out there if you just look for it; Google is your friend.
Now with organic waste also being set aside, to be collected three times a week, with recycled waste collected on the other days or which you can take yourself to a bring-in site, it is perfectly possible to manage our waste, if everyone co-operates. And that, right there, is the clincher, and why the need to make it obligatory is a must.
Of course, inevitably there are those who have come out with a plethora of objections as to why this won’t work, while complaining that they don’t have space for all these bins, and that organic waste left over a weekend will fill their kitchen with nasty smells – which probably explains why so much rubbish is dumped in the countryside, because anywhere which is not within the confines of our own four walls apparently doesn’t matter. On the other hand, I also saw positive comments by those who are in full agreement with it, especially if they already use organic waste to make their own compost. One enterprising gentleman was quick to enter the conversation and advertise special organic bins which he imports and which prevent any odours.
Unfortunately, the first Pavlovian response of many people when you give them a new rule is for them to say ’No’, while nitpicking every detail and pronouncing themselves with rather grim satisfaction that it is doomed to fail. But, rather than automatically resisting this change let us at least give it a try – get your children involved so that recycling and waste separation becomes a habit for them too. You might surprise yourself when you realise how satisfying it feels once it becomes part of your daily routine.