Pictures on this post are by Ian Hall.
Ian holds the copyright of these photographs.
They are published here with his permission.
On Saturday night, Ian Hall and I were in Melbourne's eastern suburbs for a friend's wedding. After the reception, somewhere about midnight, we went to bed setting the alarm for 3am. You see, Gleaners, we wanted to get into the city to catch White Night which was operating from 7pm to 7am.
No vehicular traffic was entering the Melbourne CBD but trams were running all night. We drove in and parked in the university precinct and caught the No. 19 (North Coburg) tram into the CBD. Even though the crowd numbers at that hour were well down on the quoted 300,000, the transformed city was a wonder to see. Familiar buildings were transformed beyond what our daily imagination could have conjured up. Creativity was released. Music, performers, artists, craftspeople, puppeteers.
However, there was something very thoughtless and unattractive on what was left behind - massive quantities of rubbish and detritus.
The sort of demographic which flocked to White Night, I think, would have responded positively to a poll asking their attitude to matters environmental. I am sure the majority of people would have been enthusiasts expressing great love and concern for their environment. The major flaw is that love and concern was not demonstrated on the streets of the Melbourne CBD on Saturday night 23 February 2013.
I don't want to hold only the individuals comprising the crowd accountable. The council of the City of Melbourne did not have its collective thinking cap on. Did any of the leadership of the City of Melbourne consider the ramifications of 300,000 people coming to town - and a lot of them staying for at least 12 hours?!
Not to worry - that international corporate, SPOTLESS, was there to pick up the pieces.
I suspect this rubbish might have remained unsorted and unrecycled and may well have been dumped into landfill.
A possible solution?
- What if all those who came into the CBD had to pass through checkpoints - entry only if you could produce two bags - one for recyclables and one for other stuff?
- What if large bin points were strategically located for people to dump their rubbish thoughtfully before they went home?
- What if the police - who, when we saw them, were standing around bored stiff - were empowered to issue on the spot fines for littering?
- And what if Spotless were only needed to pick up the dump bins regularly and take them to a spot at which they could be thoughtfully recycled or otherwise disposed?
- What if these massive CBD crowd scenes were to become admired gatherings for their environmental care?
Every item, no matter how small, that we waste, throw away, dispose of goes somewhere on our planet. Waste does not dissolve or get eliminated simply because we cannot see it and have left where it used to be clean.
Above all waste costs. It costs at the front end where there seems to be little awareness of whether packaging is necessary or kept to a minimum. When we purchase a product the waste is included in the price. At the back end, the cost of cleaning, recycling, disposing, and even dumping has a price. The price is included in the rates charges of local authorities which finds its way back into front end product costs.
Shocking costs are often inflicted on individuals and families where it hurts the most - on their bodies through illness, and on the biggest financial investment of most families - their houses and lands. These, the worst costs, are often delayed like a time bomb. Cranbourne residents were greatly shocked, inconvenienced, and out of pocket when their local municipality allowed their homes to be built on landfill.
Technology does fix some things but not all things. Recycling ability is being extended constantly - but it costs. Local Authorities, by and large, have not given up on dumping in landfill - and those cheap take-your-frig-away services when you buy a new refrigerator are often a guarantee of your frig with all its gases and chemicals being tipped into a landfill somewhere to become a hazard on time delay.
We have to ask our local council and our state and federal governments to become care-fully focussed on waste at every level and every part of our daily lives.
- What is the waste policy of your local council?
- What councillors on your local authority are interested in development and what councillors will lend a sympathetic ear to a conversation on waste, its cost, its disposal?
- Where is your waste currently going? Waste disposal does not end at the local council's Transfer Station.
- If your local council is currently using landfill, what are its plans for closing all landfill and finding other methods for waste disposal?
- How is your local council transferring its waste disposal costs to business, government, and landholders in your local authority area?
- If you live in a local authority with significant rural land holdings and an agricultural/pastoral economy, what are the local landholders doing? They frequently have their own landfill in which all sorts of things can end up. Yet with the constant expansion of our cities and suburbs, that land often ends up in the hands of the developers to become suburban housing and business development. Again, another slowly ticking hazardous bomb that we can't get our heads around because we are under the illusion that we have plenty of space to place things out of sight and out of mind.
In all these considerations, we must consider the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and the land that grows our food. In short, a cavalier attitude to waste in which we chuck without thought can affect the basic elements of life on this plant - air, water, food. We must become forces of stimulation and collaboration for those who govern us and who take on community responsibility. We cannot force business and government to take on responsible, thought-full and care-full policies if we fail to take our own individual responsibility.
All this requires more thoughtful conversation
matched by thoughtful actions
than we are managing at the moment.