I’m looking very carefully at magazine wrappers that come through my letter box these days.
I’m impressed (easily!) that Private Eye thinks that my copy is urgent but even more so by the very clear statement of the fact that this wrapper is recyclable and where it can be recycled (and has the logo to prove it).
Well done Private Eye – you’re a little ahead of most environmental NGOs…
Ian Parsons spent twenty years working as a Ranger with the Forestry Commission, where he not only worked with birds of prey and dormice, but where he developed his passion for trees. Now a freelance writer, Ian runs his own specialist bird tour company leading tours to Extremadura. For more details see www.griffonholidays.com
This is Ian’s ninth Guest Blog here (see Bird of the Year, 3 January 2018; How red are Reds? 18 November 2017;, A Question of Importance, 13 January 2017; Disturbing Conservation, 13 December 2016; Tree Blindness, 15 September 2016; Seeing the Wood for the Trees, 9 March 2017, Love Vultures – Ban Diclofenac, 27 July 2017, Building for Wildlife, 29 August 2017).
Ian’s book, A Tree Miscellany, was reviewed here.
A Recycled Argument
The rather vague announcement by the government on ‘getting rid of needless plastic waste’ has led to me recalling a conversation I had over twenty years ago. I was at a course/symposium sort of thing on sustainability, I wasn’t meant to be there, but was a last minute substitution for another member of staff who couldn’t make it.
I didn’t want to be there, it was aimed at teachers and environmental educators and I was a muddy Ranger from the woods. This might have affected my attitude and might explain my cynicism to what was being discussed, but looking back, what I said seems strangely prophetic now.
A group conversation was going on about what the individuals were going to do to make what they did more sustainable. Absolutely everybody said they were going to introduce some form of recycling at their place of work, they were going to encourage children and colleagues to recycle their plastic bottles, their drink cans etc.
When it came to my turn, my jaded, less than positive attitude, caused quite a few disapproving looks. I said that they had got it all wrong (I have never been known for being subtle…), that they had mistaken recycling as being sustainable, when it was actually a symptom of being unsustainable. I told them that if they were being sustainable they wouldn’t need to recycle.
Now that was a very broad brush statement and I know it can be picked to pieces with ease, but the basic premise is, I believe, correct. To be sustainable they shouldn’t be encouraging children to recycle plastic bottles, they should be encouraging them not to use them in the first place. That would be far more sustainable.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle were the three ‘R’s of sustainability, but somewhere along the line we seem to have forgotten the first one. Plastics are recycled as never before, but we haven’t reduced their use at all.
Fast forward twenty plus years and it is Christmas day, a relation is generously giving out presents, decoratively wrapped in shiny glittery wrapping paper, complete with stick on bows and ribbon. As I start to rip off these adornments to get at the present inside, I am scolded for being careless with the wrapping materials. “Don’t damage them,” I am told, “I keep them to reuse them, it’s called being Green!”
Now, for the sake of world peace I held my tongue (I was well aware of the loaded sharp elbow near my ribcage in case I didn’t!), but what I wanted to say was that if you were ‘Green’ you wouldn’t be using shiny glittery wrapping paper and plastic coated bows and ribbon in the first place. The thing is though we do, we think it is alright to do so, because we can put it in the recycling for the council to collect.
We have been conditioned to think recycle as opposed to thinking reduce.
A news story just after Christmas caught my eye, China had stopped taking plastics from other countries to be recycled and this was leading many councils in Britain to state that this was going to be problematical for them, as the majority of their plastic trade went to China. We were reassured though that the recycling industry were working to resolve the issue. Apart from the very obvious fact that transporting our plastic bottles half way across the world to be recycled can by no means be called sustainable, you will have noticed I italicised the words trade and industry. Since my comments twenty odd years ago, recycling has become a massive industry, trading in our unsustainability. The UK’s recycling industry is worth over 8 billion pounds, that’s a staggering amount and with such a large value comes a whole host of vested interests, when people can make large amounts of money out of doing something, they don’t like to stop doing it. Reducing the need to recycle, means reducing the value of the ‘industry’.
There was a reason why (or so I thought?) the last of the three ‘R’s was recycle. You were supposed to Reduce the use of these materials first, if you had to use them, then Reuse them, but, if after Reducing and Reusing you were still left with waste then you should Recycle. For the majority of society and business in the UK, the last of the three ‘R’s has been promoted to being the first.
As an example, take the recent (ish) news story about black plastics used in food packaging being currently unrecyclable. The story got loads of coverage, being discussed on peak viewing programs such as the One Show, but the discussions all revolved around the need to find a way to recycle this product, the only way to overcome this issue it would seem was to find a way of recycling them. Surely the way of resolving this issue was actually to reduce the use of this type of plastic in the first place, instead, because we have become so conditioned to the mantra that recycling is the way forward, I didn’t once hear this mentioned as being the solution.
We all know what plastics are doing to our planet, to the seas and to wildlife. Our priority has to be reducing the use of materials like plastic, not recycling them. Reducing might not be an industry worth multi billions of pounds but it is, surely, the only way forward if we truly want to become sustainable.
Twenty years ago it might have upset people to say that recycling was a symptom of unsustainability, it might even have been said in a moment of jaded cynicism, but do you know what, I think I was right.
On a busy day for environmental news Defra decided to publish their response to the Jane Griggs e-petition in favour of grosue shooting. Funny that.
This is what they wrote:
Grouse shooting is a legitimate activity that provides economic benefits, jobs and investment in some of our most remote areas and can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation.
The Government appreciates that many people have strongly held views on grouse shooting. The Government also recognises that shooting activities bring many benefits to the rural economy and the environment, in particular wildlife and habitat conservation. The Government therefore continues to support shooting, recognising it is vital that wildlife and habitats are respected and protected and we ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation.
The Government recognises the international importance of the UK uplands. The UK has 75 percent of the world’s remaining heather moorland and about 13 percent of the world’s blanket bog (rain-fed peat bog that ‘blankets’ the landscape). Seventy percent of the UK’s drinking water is provided from upland catchments and tourism brings in an estimated £1.78 billion to England’s upland national parks.
With regard to grouse moorland management, grouse shooting is one of the main land uses in the uplands along with grazing and forestry. The Government recognises that healthy, active peat provides good habitat for grouse as well as numerous environmental benefits and ecosystem services. Natural England is working with landowners of grouse moors within Special Areas of Conservation to develop voluntary agreements, which include vegetation management principles for the various habitats on grouse moors. The Government encourages land managers to work closely with Natural England to put voluntary agreements in place for all the benefits they bring to moor owners and to the environment.
The Government is also working with moor owners and stakeholders to further improve management practices and peat condition, such as through the Blanket Bog Restoration Strategy.
With regard to birds of prey, like all wild birds they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The current legislation and guidance balances competing social, economic and environmental interests, while protecting the conservation status and welfare of the relevant bird of prey species. Some species of birds of prey need specific protection because their low numbers indicate that their populations are struggling.
It is taking longer than it should, but Defra is saying fewer and fewer daft things as time goes on. Unfortunately, there are plenty of daft things that cannot be unsaid.
This time around there is no mention of how well Defra is doing in combatting wildlife crime – probably because the e-petition seems quite keen on encouraging wildlife crime! Nor is there anything about ‘problem species’.
Maybe it is because today the PM said ‘‘Whether they are pets, livestock or wild fauna, animals deserve the proper protection of the law and under a Conservative government that is exactly what they will receive‘ that Defra says little about this subject. but I suspect it is because of the wording of the Griggs e-petition rather than because Defra realsies it needs to do better. But Defra does need to do better – much better.
Yesterday I wrote that these were some things to look out for in Theresa May’s environment speech:
- is it all about climate change and plastic or does wildlife get a proper mention?
- is it all about the financial value of being green – or is there any moral imperative?
- is there any mention of wildlife crime – and if so is it all about foreigners being naughty?
- will fox hunting get a mention? Or of any other forms of killing things for fun?
- will there be a promise to maintain protection for species and habitats post-Brexit?
- will trees be mentioned and will the impact of HS2?
- will there be an admission of failure over recent years and a pledge to do much better and will the PM praise Michael Gove for his work so far?
- will there be a statement that Defra is one of the most important departments in her government?
So, how did she do?
When I read the speech I, too, thought ‘Either Gove wrote it or his team wrote it – it would sound better if he said it did when she said it!’.
This is how she did according to me:
- is it all about climate change and plastic or does wildlife get a proper mention? There was a lot about climate change and plastic, and there were good things said, but I was right that there is little about wildlife in the speech. The wildlife NGOs aren’t getting the message across well enough. How many members do the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB have? The excuse might be that the UK PM wants to look as though she is in charge of everything and she is not in charge of wildlife cosnervation in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland or it might just be that she doesn’t really care much about it.
- is it all about the financial value of being green – or is there any moral imperative? There was some stuff about the importance of passing things on to future generations but little about just not trashing things because it’s naughty!
- is there any mention of wildlife crime – and if so is it all about foreigners being naughty? As predicted, because it’s always like this, we did get a mention of ivory and bad foreigners but no mention of rampant wildlife crime on the grouse moors (I’ds hardly expect it but it’s not very impressive and is a long-held failing of the way the establishment including the Royal Family of course, talk about crimes against wildlife. However, this sentence was a nod in the right direction ‘Whether they are pets, livestock or wild fauna, animals deserve the proper protection of the law and under a Conservative government that is exactly what they will receive‘. that will require a step change in approach to wildlife crimes on grouse moors then!
- will fox hunting get a mention? Or of any other forms of killing things for fun? No, even though ‘We recognise that animals are sentient beings and we will enshrine that understanding in primary legislation.‘.
- will there be a promise to maintain protection for species and habitats post-Brexit? Not really – this is a major issue for me. Although she did say ‘..we will incorporate all existing EU environmental regulations into domestic law when we leave‘ there is no promise to maintain that protection into the future – even for 5 minutes!
- will trees be mentioned and will the impact of HS2? Trees were mentioned. HS2 was not mentioned. I’m interested in how much moorland will be rewilded by the Northern Forest.
- will there be an admission of failure over recent years and a pledge to do much better and will the PM praise Michael Gove for his work so far? Michael Gove was praised – and rightly so. There was no admission of failure merely a grabbing at other people’s successes – the EU’s, the last Labour government’s and the work of NGOs.
- will there be a statement that Defra is one of the most important departments in her government? Yep, more or less, ‘[our natural environment] is a central priority for this government. Well PM, it’s a good job you’ve got round to metioning at last then! but let’s not be churlish. It’s not a bad speech because it says what Gove said it should say and he has the right political nous.
Overall? 7/10 for content and 5/10 for delivery.
And of course, there actually is a 25-year environment plan – I’m reading it to see what I think of the detail.