Rules are made to be…
I try and avoid the nitty-gritty of environmental legislation if I can help it, but occasionally I dip my toe in the water to keep up with broad principles. For the latest on waste/resource I head to the North East Recycling Forum which really punches above its weight – one of the few events I attend as an audience member only. At the meeting last Thursday I noticed a worrying theme in the discussion – legislation which is trying to be helpful but ends up being prescriptive.
Exhibit 1: the waste hierarchy is actually written into some European legislation. While the hierarchy is a useful rule of thumb, it is just that and not a rule of Nature. For example, it is almost always better to recycle 100% of a waste stream than to reduce it by 20% and have to landfill the other 80% because it is not economically viable to recycle. The hierarchy cannot help you here.
Exhibit 2: the next update of the Waste Directive requires Councils to implement source segregation of recycles rather than co-mingled collection unless they can prove the latter is better. I know from my own experience as a Councillor that when we shifted from source segregation to semi-co-mingled, the amount collection collected shot up by over 50% as the system was much, much easier to use – it also cut litter, traffic congestion during collection and operative injuries. So why put the onus of proof on what is for many the obvious solution?
But this is not just about legislation – as human beings we have a terrible tendency to constrain ourselves by sometimes completely arbitrary mental rules. The green movement has its own shibboleths where, to take five examples, nuclear energy, biodiesel, GMOs, markets and carbon-offsetting are all clearly the work of the devil. This fundamentalism is not helpful when we face the scale of the challenge we face – we might just need some of these tools in our toolbox in some form or other. So it is important to challenge our own assumptions, listen to well reasoned dissenting voices and not jump to conclusions.