Five years ago, when the fight to rout Al Qaeda was still concentrated in Afghanistan, a witty UK resident painted these words on the side of his garbage bin, “Bin Laden – unless you emptied it”. Garbage collectors on that street in Nottingham, England found it so funny, they always ensured that the side with the sign faced the street whenever they replaced it and it also drew smiles from passersby.

Today nothing associated with garbage in the UK is a laughing matter. For years, councils had been looking at ways of reducing the cost of waste disposal, which has always been a huge burden. And with the European Union (EU) introducing landfill reduction targets and fines for failing to meet them, it has become even more imperative that something be done to increase recycling. A study done on waste disposal found that the UK produces more waste per head of population than many of its European neighbours, but has one of the worst recycling rates.

Experts say recycling household waste is one of ten things individual citizens of the world can do that can have a huge impact on preservation of the environment and by extension, on global warming. It is estimated that 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide are saved per year for every household that recycles half of its waste. Aluminium cans, paper and plastic are the top recyclables. People are also encouraged to compost fruit and vegetable skins.

In North America and much of Europe, local government councils have instituted a system of different coloured bins or bags, where these are used, for recyclables. The colour-coding simplifies the process for collectors who would know at a glance, what goes where. Householders who place materials in the wrong bins are fined and this ensures compliance.

In some places, councils have imposed schemes where residents have to pay for disposal based on the weight of their non-recyclable waste and this has resulted in a shift toward more recycling and composting.

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had proposed a similar ‘pay-as-you-throw’ system for some local governments after careful study and surveys had deemed it feasible. But there had been concerns too that employing such a scheme would see people reverting to backyard burning, which is a huge contributor to pollution or to fly-tipping – the illegal dumping of waste other than at an authorized landfill.

An announcement on the implementation of ‘pay-as-you-throw’ scheduled for Thursday last, was not made. According to the BBC, its sources said Prime Minister Gordon Brown seemed inclined to “dump the whole idea”.

However, no alternative was put forward and since the UK has no choice but to reduce landfill use, the system might still go ahead, perhaps with some modification. There had also been proposals that recyclers be charged lower taxes as an incentive, but there was no clear indication as to how this would be worked out.

It seems UK policymakers may have found, as Kermit the Frog sang on “Sesame Street”: “It’s not that easy being green.”

Guyana does not have the tonnage of waste that the UK deals with on a daily basis. Yet it has already had significant landfill problems and even more woes with the disposal of plastics. While recycling of some materials might be a long way off and the country might be better off reducing its consumption of plastics, discouraging illegal dumping and encouraging composting would certainly help. It does seem kind of silly that our government could move to dedicate our entire forest to conservation efforts and yet turn a blind eye to city streets and drains clogged with waste.

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