July 6, 2010

I’m in Finland. Finland’s great. I ought to blog about the forests, summer cottages and lakes not to mention the marvelous weather we’ve been having.

But I’m British so I’ll have a good moan anyway.

I sometimes think our geography in the UK means we have a scattered experience of other European states. We’re pretty slow to borrow their great ideas. Our expectations are lowered because not enough of us have experienced the French transport system, the Finnish education system, the German beers. What we’ve had has been great for so long we haven’t really checked other countries to see if its still relatively great. We are pretty keen to hold back power from Brussels, but sometimes we’ve just got to stand back and admit Big Europe does it better.

Recycling is an example. I’m a recycling cynic. It comes down to three things:

– Why do we mainly recycle renewable things? Are we running out of sand for glass? Can we not plant trees?
– Why does our recycling mainly come down to giving companies things for free? I can pay some nominal charge for a plastic bag , but will I be refunded if I bring any bags back to the shop ? (Some shops do offer rewards for sustainable behavior but its too patchy and not locally available where I am) If this is not a cynical money making scheme why do they not switch to using bio degradable materials for bags as some shops have?
– It can be a placebo. We can think we are saving the planet and keep our emissions as high as ever. Surely our first priority ought to be to reduce our emissions drastically, whether we believe thats to avert a man made catastrophe, or manage inevitable natural variation, or something in between.

Whether its a beer can or a bottle, in Finland you can expect 15 or 20c to be refunded when you return a used container back to the shop. Thats how it ought to function. You can bet Scotland would be close to 100% efficient if they thought there was money in it. So far I’m aware of only Irn Bru doing this. You won’t find an eligible bottle lying anywhere, the consumer will be only too keen to return them in bulk to the supplier for financial reward. Here you can even see homeless people collecting cans.

Its not a uniquely Finnish example at all. Perhaps the UK is more in the unique position of taking the least effective approach to recycling and treating it as some kind of hobby instead of a serious part of our buying and selling.