I know what’s in your bin and I hate you

Abdullah II  king of Jordan and myself have some things in common: not because we are of a similar age, nor our interest in Star Trek, no it is that we both like to see how the other half live.  Abdullah nips out in ordinary clothes, a fake beard and only the minimal security of a couple of bodyguards to experience life as a citizen. Apparently he does this frequently and like him, usually when I have run out of money, I go out and get down with the workers. Last month I was picking potatoes, well, more accurately I was picking rocks out of conveyer belt of potatoes but over the summer I was picking through the rubbish bins of the people of Presteigne.

Presteigne: hometown of World Supersport Champion Chaz Davis, my adopted hometown and home to Zero Waste.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-15023268

‘Presteigne and Norton, which have been in the Zero Waste Wales scheme since April 2010, recycled 74% of municipal rubbish from April to June.’ The praise doesn’t stop: Katy Anderson of the Cwm Harry Land Trust said: “Presteigne and Norton have reached the Welsh Government Zero Waste target for 2025 14 years ahead of schedule”. She also said people had also been made aware of the value of waste, and the communities had been given back the value of their recycling which was £10,800 last year.

So unlike other communities we live in the smug knowledge that we are saving the planet, combating climate change and still be able to drive our 4x4s. Of course it is a caricature to think we drive Landrovers everywhere but how effective is our recycling in a small Welsh town on a global or even national level?

Zero Waste boosts that it invests in people with its roadside collection and sorting. In reality this is a low paid unskilled task of sorting waste in all weathers. Compared with other methods of recycling it is labour intensive, the thousand or so houses that are part of the scheme require three full-time and two part-time members of staff to collect, sort and recycle the waste. In actuality the project is under staffed as I found my normal working week included compulsory over-time of anything up to 2 hours a day without any additional benefit, no lunch break and no fixed statutory breaks. On top of this there was no statutory rest area away from the work place and no washing facilities. And if that wasn’t bad enough it can be quite unpleasant if packaging is not washed: maggots, partly eaten take-away and rancid milk bottles can put you off your lunch and people.

If the start-up costs of vehicles, processing machinery and rent are excluded the wage packet alone, at a conservative level, is well over £50k and that excludes employers contributions and administration charges. With the average household producing a ton of waste a year and a 1000 households this amounts to 1k which in turn amounts to a collection rate of £50 a ton or household. By contrast Friends of the Earth estimate £18 as an average collection cost per household per year.  Rural collection will always be more expensive than urban collection but the Zero-Waste scheme is unsustainable it survives with additional funding because it is a pilot experimental project.

Waste is a waste of resources but even with Zero-Waste’s 74% recycling which is 750 tons of waste the revenue generated is only £10,000.  35% of this is food waste which costs more than it generates in either bio gas or compost yet it is an essential component of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the value of the other recyclables. The next big chunk of waste is paper and card making up 20% but the return is low at  only £20 a ton, clear glass does better but green glass has almost zero value. The problem in the UK is we export products in clear glass and import a billion wine bottles in green into a country that doesn’t make many green bottles. On a positive note those bottles are not going into landfill and are made into sand.

It is plastics that are the most interesting, on the one hand drinks bottles can get an excellent return of up to £380 a ton with milk bottles also doing well, the problem is that the rest of the plastics have very little value. What happens to it is a bit of a mystery as it is traded by middlemen but a huge quantity ends up in the returning containers that China shipped its goods to us to be eventually hand sorted by very low paid workers.

The problems of recycling should not put people off the benefits given that even at today’s rates the UK saves 10 million tons of CO2 output in the process but this is a small % of our total 500 million ton output. Landfill only works if there are holes to fill and few would want to live near one. Waste plastic makes a very good fuel but incineration is even more unpopular than burying waste. Even in a near perfect zero waste system there is still 25% of waste that is not recyclable such as nappies and contaminated paper and that still needs disposing.

The Netherlands has the best record on recycling achieving 60%. Deposits on drinks bottles and electrical items help with this but I can vouch from personal experience of working for Arnham Council on an exchange it is more about attitude. In the Netherlands people have a sense of civic duty. It costs less to recycle there because waste is properly cleaned, sorted and disposed of and it the same reason that they don’t spend a £trillion on disposing of litter as it does in the UK. My experience of Presteigne’s bins demonstrates that we are not quite as collectively diligent.

Incineration may be a taboo subject but we still need to dispose of 25% of our waste and it should be remembered that all that packaging served a valuable purpose and that energy from waste can be eco-friendly. It would certainly reduce CO2 emissions and waste paper as well as a  billion tons of waste wood are carbon neutral.

“We use a slow recycling approach which invests in people rather than the hi-tech shiny trucks of conventional waste management.” Zero-Waste

There are important actions with immediate benefits that are easily done such as separating organic waste and there is a healthy market for more valuable plastics and metal. Ultimately I would rather see investment in machines to sort out our refuse rather than people and for greens to realise the limitations of recycling. It plays a small role in preserving our planet, there are plenty of issues out there and recycling is becoming a distraction.

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The Real Jesus

Aside from shouting profanities at the inequalities of the system I have also spent a decade or more writing about that other evil: religion and playing with film making.

This is my first attempt using a simple flash editor that makes the movie for you.

Whilst on the subject of video I came across the quick video maker whilst trying to get my head round quantative easing. These two little bears!?! , although concerning the US, explain it rather well.

Euro in Crisis, or the biggest conspricy?

The Euro is in crisis, a statement that gets mentioned on an almost daily basis yet what actually is going on is a little mystery.

The Greeks have a big debt, Ireland and Portugal aren’t much better off and Italy and Spain look to follow. But, like most people, I don’t quite get the complexities. Call me stupid but as I understand it the amount of money in the World, in Europe, in the banks is actually more rather than less. The UK just dumped £75 billion into the economy on top of an equally improbable amount in the last round of ‘quantative easing’.  It is not real money, it is electronic but so is most of the money in the world.  The Federal Reserve has dumped an astonishing £1.4 trillon, a figure so vast that it would normally be used in astronomy but all to no real avail.

The last round of Euro crisis featured the Greeks asking the rest of Europe, or rather Germany for a mere £8 billion to pay off its impeding debt payment. The Greeks have taken a kind of mortgage holiday and are only paying off the interest on their loan whilst they look for a new job. The Germans will give the money to the Greeks who will give it to the banks who lent the money and here is the twist: the banks will then pay interest to those who put the money in the bank for them to lend. It turns out most of the spare money that ended up in the banks was German in the first place.

Germany makes lovely cars, fridges and a whole host of beautifully engineered products. They are very good at it and make far more than they can sell in the home market so off they go to other countries. And can I say how happy we are with our new black Bosch fridge freezer. The Greeks also like their new fridge freezers and BMWs but had to take out a few loans and max out the credit card to get them. The Germans take their well-earned profit and pop all that spare money into the bank, and the moment anyone utilises the banks vaults the bank is allowed the money as if its their own. We think this to be perfectly normal because money isn’t really anything in particular but if you left your lawn mower or BMW in the bank for safe keeping and they took it home and lent it out to their neighbour who then actually dented it, then we would be slightly pissed off.

The Germans and the Greeks were happy with the relationship; German Euros could be lent to Greeks so they bought German goods. Except the Greeks lied when they filled out the enrolment details on their collective credit card, failing to mention that they also had a few store cards hidden away and that their credit rating was based on loans being taken out to pay the interest on the new loans. If the relationship was purely between the two nations fingers could be pointed at the Germans for being so stupid in lending money to people who couldn’t pay it back. But in between were the banks.

Banks take German Euros and pay a small interest rate in return, then lend it to Greeks at a slightly higher rate. And who would begrudge a small admin charge to the banks for moving all that money around? So were the banks stupid in lending out money to someone who could never afford to pay it all back? Well, it was never really their money so why should they care? But there is a neat way they can maximise the interest they get. If debtors are particularly risky then it is sensible to secure one’s investment and reduce the risk of loss by charging a higher interest rate.  The Greek crisis is that it can no longer borrow money on the open market without incredibly high interest repayments so its gone to Euro countries for a  €209 billion top up loan. If Greece defaults then the chances of anyone getting their money back is slim. Greece could declare bankruptcy and go back to the Drachma which would mean cheap holidays for the rest of the world but Greeks would be unable to afford goods from other European countries.

The Euro is in crisis because if Greece defaults or goes bankrupt then other Euro countries like Ireland will also fail, or simply have some of their debt written off. Yet with all this potential chaos the big banks and financial capitalists are making millions  because they trade in currency and with so much uncertainty there is a huge amount of activity as money is being shifted about and with very low risk for the traders they can collect the commission on each trade.

As we have seen the commercial banks are very good at scaring people as to the what would happen if they are not protected from the very risks they took. At the same time they are free to find neat ways to profit from the crisis they help create. It would appear that the huge sums of quantative easing are not trickling down into the wider economy but used by the banks to spend on speculating on commodities like oil and wheat which pushes up the price, makes them more money, and increases inflation by a further 1.5%.

The banks and the financial capitalists are either a) stupid b)spoilt brats who expect to be bailed out by their parents or c) very smart. If c) then they have conspired to allow the debt crisis to manifest so as to make a killing.

Capitalism in a pure form is fairly straight forward. More and more people want oil/ fuel/wheat etc and if the supply isn’t there the price can increase. I may complain that it cost more but I won’t complain if my skills are in short supply and everyone wants to pay me more. Even speculation on commodities can help even out the income of producers in volatile markets. But financial capitalism looks to make a buck out misfortune. It is not evil just without any morels. If money can be made out of a failing economy even though a stable one would in the long term would benefit everyone then any opportunity is fair game. Neither is this form of capitalism a level playing field as the financial capitalists are able to unfairly influence government policy.

I don’t pretend to have anything but a vague understanding at what is going on but if you want to get away with murder try making the trail so complicated that it is almost impossible for anyone to work out. We may all be deceived on an unprecedented level with a conspiracy so elaborate that it would make the faked moon landings, 9/11 and Roswell look like wild speculation on the Web.