“Recycle and Reward” – Let’s rub our starry eyes and peer through the rubbish
This July, I joined the Hebridean Celtic Festival goers on the Isle of Lewis. A fantastic festival – from its celebration of the finest of Scottish music, community spirit, boost to local business… suffice to say, it is very much worth a visit.
Here, however, I’d like to consider an aspect of the festival which, alongside the Mediterranean weather, real ale tent and Dougie Maclean’s ‘Caledonia’, characterised this year’s HebCelt.
Any 2013 HebCelt-er will be familiar with the sight of children wandering the site, weaving in and out of legs, in their arms teetering towers of plastic beer cups. The most determined of these kids were dwarfed by the stacks they lugged through the tents, while the drinkers drained their dregs and watched for a passing child – or bobbing cup-stack – to balance their empty precariously on top.
Now, I don’t want to mislead you into thinking the festival had somehow managed to get round certain laws to employ small children for their menial labour. This was, instead, the result of the new ‘Recycle and Reward’ government-funded initiative, being piloted at the festival – and other locations around the country – this summer.
The concept? A machine, brought over from Germany, randomly presents prizes to those who feed it cups, bottles or cans. Jack pot – an ipad. Some lucky children (and perhaps a few lucky adults) thus came away very happy with a shiny new gift, some parents may have been glad of their children’s preoccupation and surely it helped save some cups and bottles from a landfill destiny?
This may be so…. But needless to say, I have some concerns about the whole glossy-green initiative. I write these down first and foremost because it is important to take a step back and consider what genuine benefit to the environment and our society such schemes actually have, lest we become sufferers of the glazed-eyes effect when presented with the word ‘recycle’, and – for that matter – ‘reward’.
Surely we are past the stage of needing to be rewarded to recycle our rubbish? Not only does the whole concept feel rather patronising, through such initiatives we are simply feeding our consumer culture and need for material recompense for all of our environmental ‘efforts’.
The less than exemplary environmental and social record embroiled in the Apple products with which we are being rewarded aside; do we really want to build a culture in which we feel that we deserve prizes for taking care of our environment and responsibility for our waste?
Considering the above, even if the use of these machines did in fact drastically reduce the amount of waste from the festival going to landfill, I would still have concerns about it. For this particular case however, I doubt whether much waste was indeed saved.
I volunteered for the festival ‘Green Team’ for the second year running; part of the group of volunteers working shifts to ensure a litter-free and well-recycled site. I was impressed at the diligence of the team leader and the other volunteers to make sure that everything possible was sorted.
Time was spent peeling plastic windows from paper packaging, unwrapping bits of clingfilm from their cardboard tubes, emptying carrier bags to rummage through the debris; as a result only one skip ended up in landfill – quite a feat for a festival of 10,000+ people.
The same happened this year, and the festival should be congratulated on this dedication to recycle. I should say that last year we were helped along by the festival-goers doing a good chunk of the sorting themselves in the form of sticking their waste in the correct bin (unrewarded).
I don’t know the figures, and it may be that case that a few more cups, bottles and cans were recycled this year. However, I do know that the majority of these were also recycled last year – where festival-goers, impatient to see the next act, did not have to queue to recycle their cup and children were free from the enticement of ipads to run around and enjoy the music. The only major impact that I picked up on was that this year there was a little less work for the Green Team volunteers.
‘Recycle and Reward’ is a pilot project. It is also being tested at some IKEA stores, train stations and other outlets around the country. It is, possibly, more suited to such contexts than for a festival, however the same key problem lies at the heart of it.
It is part of a number of false solutions covering our eyes to the real picture of what we are trying to achieve through our ‘ambitious’ carbon reduction targets.
Yes, we need to recycle – but this is drastically missing the point. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more evident as we pump unprecedented levels of CO2 into the atmosphere.
There is no doubt that we need a transition to a low carbon future. This needs to be built now and will require a re-evaluation of our societal values, needs and wants as well as a serious commitment from our governments to aid the transition: transporting a machine from Germany to ‘recycle’ a cup, in order to give away a handful of free ipads is not part of any carbon reduction solution.