Thursday, March 04, 2010


One of the everyday problems of living on a farm is dealing with rubbish. There are no convenient collections of black plastic bags, magically whisked away to a landfill site a nice distance away from civilization. In the good old days of course there was very little that you couldn’t either compost or re-use on a self-sufficient small farm. But we live in the good old nowadays, which means milk in plastic 2 litre jugs (we don’t have our own cow, not much of a farm!), endless cardboard packaging, cat food tins and miscellaneous bits of plastic packaging.

All of this we have to dispose of somehow. Anything that can’t be composted goes into a big pit a little distance from the house and is burnt. It's been a thorn in my environmental conscience for a long time, but it’s the best we can do, unless we shove those stinky plastic sacks into the back of the car and drive them, using precious fuel, to the dump near our local town and let them fill up their big pit with our rubbish.

Recycling has also been a problem. I refuse point blank to chuck glass into the rubbish pit and the same with tins. But our local town doesn’t have any of those handy bottle banks that are so liberally strewn round Europe and to make recycling worth doing is has to be in a place you are going to anyway on a regular basis. A special journey pretty much cancels out the ecological virtue of all your efforts.

So I was really overjoyed to discover, when I googled local recycling facilities for the nth time, that our local dump actually does have a recycling facility. I rang them up and spoke to an efficient young man who explained exactly which plastic they do and don’t recycle and gave me directions to the dump.

For the next two weeks I diligently separated out the plastic 1s and 2s (good to recycle) from the 5s (all our yoghurt pots, not good, but being reused to plant cuttings) until I had a large sack full of plastic, two bags of tins and a bag of cardboard. I skimmed the surface of our bottle mountain at the back of the garage and filled two boxes with dusty bottles and then drove off to town my halo glowing just a little (low energy bulb of course).

This is recycling African country style. I was given a friendly wave at the weigh bridge and directed over to the recycling depot: a large open fronted shed, with a fork lift truck busy tidying up, by shoving a mountain of recyclable material further into the depths of the shed. The driver climbed down to help me unload. My carefully sorted bags seemed faintly ridiculous in the face of the mountain, but he carried each one over to a lady who was in charge of a conveyor belt. Along the conveyor belt sat a string of other ladies. Bags were emptied onto one end and sorted as it went along. My bottles were dumped straight on, the other bags added to the enormous heap beside and around it. The system obviously works as there were enormous bales of sorted plastic and crushed cans stacked outside.

After my first visit I came away feeling good about it. Not only was my rubbish being recycled instead of polluting the air we breathe and the earth we live on, but at least 10 women were being employed and earning a wage sorting it. A subsequent visit today in the heat, with flies busy showing that not everyone washes out their recyclables, and an ever present mountain of mixed plastic tins and cardboard that never seems to get any smaller, made me think that it must be an extremely dispiriting job to do and perhaps nice tidy bottle banks would be a step forward, but then who would feed their families... an ever present African dilemma.

One side-effect of the recycling drive is that we have far less rubbish in our main kitchen bin. This was great in cool weather, but our summer has now hotted up. First thing in the morning last week my husband called me through to the kitchen in a doom-laden voice. Silently he pointed to the floor around the bin. Without my glasses on I could just distinguish some white specks liberally strewn around.
"Has somebody spilt the rice?" I ventured.
And then even without my glasses I could see the grains were moving, making a break for freedom from the confines of our nicely stewed bin. Maggots… It was left to my husband to vacuum them up.


  1. Good on you for doing the recycling, Kim. We have it really easy here in Melbourne: a separate recycling bin that gets collected once a fortnight. I'm really pleased that we're more conscious with what we do to our environment these days. Every little bit helps.

  2. My conscience weighs heavy on "bin day"! Eldest's school has gone green and scholars and their families are encouraged to recycle using the many colourful bins provided. I have seized this opportunity in my little effort for out planet. The maggots however are our worst leaving my Hubby cringing! In summer I rinse meat packets, tins and anything else that may encourage their breeding habits! But even then we sometimes lose the battle! YEEACH!

  3. Ugh--maggots.

    That's amazing--the interesting thing out here is that there are many recycling centers throughout the US, but very few people seem to know about them, let alone use them. Only a few cities actually offer recycling, and fewer allow you recycle everything that could be. The best recycling experience I ever had was in the UK--at the University, there was a whole section of bins for recycling, and you could literally recycle everything.

  4. When we first moved to Mauritania, I was traumatized by not being able to recycle. I hated throwing away all the cardboard, glass and tin. Then I realized that Mauritania actually has an extremely efficient recycling system. Goats eat the cardboard, and poor children sift through the rubbish heaps and triumphantly carry home all tin and glass. I started being careful to recap empty glass and plastic containers, since it made them more valuable!
    We do have some recycling here in Morocco, but it's only for businesses, not for family.

  5. edj - The Mauritanian system sounds even better than recycling cos it's all being reused.
    pilgrimchick - We were spoilt in the UK too with bottle banks at every supermarket and even old clothes banks at some.
    natalian - the maggots keep making a come back - it's been so hot here. My husband keeps reminding me that they used to be used to clean wounds in the old days so they're not all that bad!
    adele - I wish we had that collection system here. My mother has it in the UK now and I'm so envious!

  6. Glad to hear you have a facility near enough to make it worth the trip!

    Let that halo shine.

    As for the maggots - why not put your rubbish bin outside? You could make a hatch door... or something.

  7. I dutifully separate all my recycling and take it to the right bins, but I know that other people have thrown rubbish in there and there is a high chance that it will be too contaminated to be recycled. Sometimes I think we are just doing it to make ourselves feel better. The best thing to do would be to use as little plastic as possible.

    Thank you for the scone recipe. I'm going to try it on the weekend. :)

  8. Good for you, recycling in a place where it isn't made easy to do.

    There are no recycling centers at all here, but a group of mainly British expatriates get together every Saturday and hold bake sales, etc. They use recycled plastic trays, glass jars, etc, so now I just save everything up and take it to them.

  9. I was reminded of your post today, when a similar article popped up on a blog I follow of a ranch family of 6, here in the U.S.

    I've been feeling bad about the plastic gallon milk containers I use -- I miss being on the farm and having the old bucket of fresh milk in the fridge :) Don't be too hard on yourself, you're probably saving in ways that us city dwellers can't! :)


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!