FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – RECYCLING, LIFE AND THE ENVIRONMENT


This morning, I had rather hoped to wake up to a stream of sun light pouring into our bedroom through the crack in the curtains; And when my PA opened the window I should have been greeted with the wonderful sound of birdsong that signals that the real start of British summertime.

Instead, what did I get? Grey skies and the merest hint of birds rustling around in the evergreen tree just behind the bedroom.  It’s the last week of March, and for those of us in the northern hemisphere, we should be looking forward to long sunny summer days, when you can open the patio doors and let in the fresh air.  Even if you can’t dine al fresco every evening, you should be able to look forward to a glass of whatever takes your fancy – viewing your freshly manicured lawn, or in our case the freshly manicured portion of green that passes for a lawn, so long as you don’t look too closely for the weeds.

It also appears to be the time of year when (posted through our letterbox) we get an abundance of recycling bags from Charities, some of whom you never knew existed.  These are usually asking for bric-a-brac, pairs of shoes (tied together by the laces of course), good quality clothes – but no books, CD’s or tapes (now is anyone out there willing to admit to owning cassette tapes any longer … No, it really gives your age away doesn’t it!)

Like many local authorities the world over, our local authority here in Cardiff have a penchant for changing their recycling policy every time someone further up the local authority chain says “Ozone”.  Consequently, we currently get black bins, green bins and green bags.  We are told to recycle garden and food waste in a green bin but we dare not put a large tree branch into the gardening green bin, for fear that the Recycling Reich will single our bin out with a label that tells us we will be hauled before the Garbage Gestapo if we ever transgress again.

The net result of our local recycling policy is that paths, driveways, back lanes and previously delightfully pretty front gardens have become homes for polycarbonate pods, that are unsightly at best, and a massive nuisance to wheelchair users, older people and parents with buggies at worst.

Now, I fully appreciate that recycling is the way forward and, in our house we have embraced this process with enthusiasm.  Steve has organised that we have bins for this and bags for that.  In fairness the system does work well, but woe betide anyone who puts the wrong item into the wrong bin.  Suddenly, this relatively tame man becomes a recycling psychopath obsessed with not having one of those stickers that tells the neighbourhood we are failed recyclers.  I have caught him trawling through the green bag at some unearthly time of the night for fear of officialdom honing their environmental antenna in direction of our front door.

There is however, a serious side to the need to protect our environment, the world community, and preserve the natural resources that surround us. 

Listening to the radio earlier on this month, it struck me how many days throughout the year are designated to promoting some area or another of our lives.  Setting aside Patron Saints days, there were twenty nine days in March designated to promoting life, wellbeing, culture and the environment.  I had the pleasure of taking part in two of these event days – World Book Day on the 5th March, and International Women’s Day on the 8th March. 

For World book day, I spent an afternoon with tenants from a local housing association talking about my book, and persuading them that setting up a book club would be a really good way of enhancing the community spirit in the Association.  Then later in the week, I spent the day at the National Assembly for Wales to celebrate International Women’s Day.  Both occasions were very different, but I had the pleasure of meeting some very interesting people.  It occurred to me that those events did much to promote the fact that well being and an appreciation of culture can do so much to enhance quality of life.  And, more importantly, this need to promote a good quality of life transcends race, gender and religion.

A cursory glance at the internet led me to a couple of very different websites on awareness days.  The United Nations webpage promoted a whole host of “world” environmental and cultural days, on topics that we wouldn’t ordinarily think about … Remembering victims of slavery; the promotion of copyright and intellectual property; days to promote environmental issues such as water and meteorology; And the promotion of health matters in the third world – addressing illnesses like tuberculosis and malaria.

Closer to home, I found a site promoting awareness days and events in Britain.  What surprised me was the depth of awareness there is on things that are so relevant to us … Coffee Break Day was held on the 4th March to promote the work of the Meningitis Trust, and World Glaucoma week was concerned with the prevention of blindness.  These are some of the lesser known causes that were celebrated this month, alongside our regular days supporting cancer charities and the work of those involved in other health related research foundations.

Having ambled through the world-wide web, I realised there are many thousands of people who are genuinely concerned with the world that we live in, and in making life better for the millions of people who live in the poorest of conditions.  These unsung heroes quietly go about the business of promoting the wellbeing of the environment and of people who live with illness and impairment the world over.

There is no doubt that recycling is big business.  By 2015 the UK Government expects local authorities to recycle at least 33% of our rubbish.  So it is a fair bet that we can probably expect more of these charity bags to appear in our hallways.

Until recently, I had hesitated to put my old dresses, coats and cardigans into recycling.  After all what would anyone do with a garment altered to accommodate four fingers, or a pair of leggings to fit thirteen toes!  Now, it gives me a good feeling to think that at some point in the not-too-distant future, some of my old psychedelic dresses will be used by a woman in a village in a needy third world country. 

Perhaps, with rose-tinted spectacles, I have this picture in my mind’s eye of such a dress being paraded at a tribal event bringing colour to that occasion in much the same way it would have done on a cold damp day in South Wales.

In thinking about these “World” and ”National” days, it has struck me that anyone can make a difference to life and our environment – no matter what their position.  But, before we can all truly subscribe to the recycling ethos, I believe that “recycling snobbery” has to be eradicated.  What do I mean by this?  Well, certainly in our area of Cardiff, there appears to be a certain sense of “one-upmanship” in the number of green bags you can manage to fill your pavement with on recycling day, and I bet it happens in your area too!

And so, where has all this musing led me.  Ironically, to remember a young Brazilian girl named Rafaela that I met in 1996 – whose story I mentioned in my book.  As one of the second generation of Thalidomide children discovered in Brazil, she and her family lived in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro and came to the UK for the fitting of prosthetic ears.  Rafaela is now a young woman in her middle twenties, but is unlikely to have escaped the poverty that is so very evident in that South American city. 

I understand that Carnival time in Rio is a time when those who live in the Favelas supplement their income by collecting aluminium cans for recycling.  It saddens me to think of Rafaela possibly having to collect, for a living, what we regard as a bit of a nuisance to put into a green bag for recycling.

It has done me a power of good to think about recycling in new light, and given me an appreciation that it’s not just about landfill and saving the planet.  It is about improving life chances for so many needy and deserving people. 

But be warned … I have already said that recycling is big business, and with that in mind there are rogues out there who are anything but charitable or environmental in their intentions.  Any of those charity bags that are remotely suspicious should be discarded.  But why not, if you don’t already do so, use those unscrupulous bags for your non-recyclables.  That way, those who have no regard for the environment, or our fellow human beings, are consigned where they belong … In the rubbish!

And, just one final thought … wars, natural disasters and conflicts aside, what a wonderful world we are privileged to live in … I hope you agree, and if so you might like to know that World Earth Day is celebrated on the 22nd April.

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