Sunday 1 November 2009

This blue planet should be greener

There's nothing like a neatly-raked, freshly-planted vegetable garden for promoting smuggery: the hard digging done, the plants full of promise, the whole Good Life self-sufficiency scenario. Plus, the eco-halo from the recycling involved: the home-made compost from household scraps and the free-range hens' manure; the plastic pots filched from the return bin at the garden centre, bottoms cut off and then screwed into the soil around each tender little tomato plant, ready to contain the water when they've got big and thirsty. And the re-used bamboo canes topped with drilled champagne corks so I don't put my eye out when bending down to pick myself a sun-warmed cherry tomato.

But the old canes are fragile and likely to snap, so I've invested in steel-cored plastic-coated ones that should last much longer. They're made in China, and I hope the plastic is recycled - who knows, possibly from our own milk bottles and hummus containers that, outrageously, are sent all the way to China to be processed.

Clean, green New Zealand - yeah, right. The 100% Pure image that the tourist people are so pleased with (and that makes their Aussie equivalents so, er, green with envy) is not as accurate as it should be: quite apart from pockets of pollution from industrial processes around the country, it's a scandal that we send our used plastic halfway around the world for recycling because despite the cost, both financial and carbon, of sending it so far, the Chinese can still do it more cheaply than we can here.

It's also kind of ironic that China imports waste plastic when they have so much of their own, blowing about the streets and flapping from the branches of trees. Despite armies of people like this man? woman? here - one of the better-equipped of the cleaners we saw, compared with the guy sweeping up McDonalds wrappers with a bamboo besom - there's still a lot of litter around the cities, which is grieving to see. In Santiago I watched in horror as a street vendor threw a carton of plastic waste over the railing into the river running through the city - a tumbling, rocky mountain river straight out of the Andes, edged with plastic detritus. In the Yasawa Islands of Fiji, the warm water of the South Pacific is so clear you can see through it to the tin cans and bottles wedged into the sand on the bottom. On top of Mt Snowdon in Wales, ramblers who had spent three hours climbing up through dramatic scenery of sheep-nibbled hillsides, distant lakes and rocky summits thought nothing of dropping banana peel and drink bottles.

And my English in-laws, who live just outside a rubbish-recycling zone (although within SUV-range of bottle-banks, etc) blithely throw plastic, wine bottles and paper into the same bag as their food scraps, without a second thought - although when I recoiled in shock, some residual guilt led to a sudden spat of blame-throwing between them. It didn't, alas, lead to a change in behaviour.

The more I travel around it, the more aware I am of how lucky we are to live on such a beautiful planet. I wish everyone would try harder to keep it clean and tidy.

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