Dear Guernsey: Please, god, give me a break from #Bingate.
This post originally appeared in the Guernsey Press on Saturday, 16 February 2019
Right, it’s been a few weeks since I last wrote home and let me tell you: I’m very tired right now. I’m tired of dealing with estate agents, tired of having to deal with moving flat again, and most of all, I’m TIRED OF SEEING PEOPLE IN GUERNSEY COMPLAIN ABOUT BLOODY BINS.
Over the past few weeks on Facebook, the single biggest story I’ve seen come out of Guernsey is the fact that:
- The States of Guernsey has introduced a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ system for bin bags
- It’s sticker-based
- It seems to have sent the entire island into meltdown.
Seriously. Judging by some of the reactions online I’m half expecting the island to look like Mont Cuet Landfill Site next time I land back home. I’m picturing some sort of post-apocalyptic scene: Flaming piles of garbage as far as the eye can see. Seagulls circling Vazon Beach like a clip from The Birds. Islanders fighting each other to get on the ferry before it departs for Sweden with the milk cartons.
It’s all too bleak and too dramatic for me. With Brexit happening, my back starting to ache, and now this, all I want to do is lie down and eat an entire pack of biscuits. Or, better still, eat an entire pack of biscuits at someone else’s house so I don’t have to pay to throw away the packaging.
But I think this process — which I shall now tentatively refer to as Bingate (you’re welcome) — is one of those instances where social media has easily made the debate and reaction around ‘Pay As You Throw’ worse: you could actually watch online as misinformation was generated and germinated, causing (in my view) the Bingate hysteria: I watched as islanders accused each other of littering. I watched as people rallied each other to generate as much waste as they could before the charge got introduced in some vague form of protest. I watched as people encouraged each other to fly-tip. It was quite shocking and disappointing, to be honest; as much as we love to bang on about how Guernsey is a great small community, we certainly get divided and vitriolic when it comes to actually debating something or giving something new a chance. And, to the fly-tippers: shame on you. Shame on the people who have deliberately taken advantage of a situation just to throw out some extra crap they had sitting at the back of the cupboard. Anybody can do that and congratulations! You’ve not made a point very effectively and you’ve made our community look terrible in the process. Valiant effort.
Frankly, having just had a big clear-out of my flat in London, it’s made me realise how great I had it back home. Since I live in a communal block now, all of my rubbish (recyclable or not) goes in one bin, which leaves me wondering if it ever really gets recycled. Plus, if you want to dispose of something big or electrical, you have to carefully plan and arrange a trip to the nearest council dump (inevitably carrying it all on public transport, too) to get rid of it responsibly. Guernsey’s already been doing that for ages, and in a far simpler process too.
Yes, it might sound wild that our milk cartons are sent to Sweden, but at least they’re getting recycled. At least we’re being accountable for the waste we generate and are taking steps to get the island recycling — which is also why I think the bag charge is a good motivator to stop people being so lazy about sorting recycling or food waste. Seriously, if your household is producing 5 black bags worth of rubbish a week, you’re either running a B&B or just not recycling very well. Admittedly it’s also up to our supermarkets and retailers to be responsible with their packaging, too.
And hey, it could be worse: Taiwan also has a ‘pay as you throw’ system, but you have to personally take your waste out in the morning at the same time the bin lorry arrives (they blast classical music from the lorry so you know it’s outside, like a gross, adult version of an ice cream van) — and, to stop fly-tipping, “some areas have installed video cameras to catch violators,” says a report from Global Citizen. “First time violators are given a warning, but the second time, the video footage is posted with the offender’s face blurred out. This serves as an incentive to the offender to not violate the rules again.” Taiwan’s recycling rate, by the way? 55%. Guernsey’s is over 50%, according to the States, and that’s without the need to publicly humiliate offenders (as much as I’d like to see it happen.)
More than half of the entire island is now recycling, and I think that, for a 24sq mile island in the middle of the ocean, where everything is imported and exported either by sea or by air, it’s something we should be immensely proud of. Whilst there’ll always be teething problems for something like this, and there’ll always be people who flout the rules, I’ve been really proud to see Guernsey leading the way on waste strategy, plus everyone I’ve mentioned it to in London seems to think it’s a fine and progressive idea. Time will tell, but in the meantime, can we all stop yelling at each other on Facebook about it? Go outside. Take a break. Walk along the beach.
And pick up some litter whilst you’re at it.