If COP26 delegates really want to make a difference, they should listen to the waste industry says Neil Grundon, Deputy Chairman of Grundon Waste Management
It’s probably a truism that no inventor expects his invention to be thrown away, physically that is, not metaphorically.
If John Logie Baird had been told that a mere 40 years after he beamed his first television pictures to a roomful of amazed scientists, rock stars would be hurling his invention out of their hotel windows, I think he would have been aghast, and somewhat disappointed.
I’m sure that if a dustman of the day were to be sat amongst the collected eminent academics on that momentous occasion, he could have quietly taken John to one side and explained how something with such mass appeal would one day end up in a landfill site.
But of course, history repeats itself – witness the fact some of the best Roman digs are on old tips. The Romans could smash pottery better than drunks in a china shop and leave the tidying up to some indentured Spartan whistling as he worked.
Whole forests of trees were burned to make pots and plates to grace the tables of this new sophisticated army sweeping its way around the world, while its new-fangled central heating systems and fancy mosaics eventually all crumbled to dust.
I bet even Henry Ford expected us to be rattling around in his model Ts for the next few centuries, but you are about as likely to see one of those gracing our roads as you are to see a tanker driver in recent months.
It’s a sad fact that the human race is not very good at tidying up around itself. Maybe it’s just the human condition, to improve and invent our way out of a crisis, and leave the problems of the past, well, in the past.
Unfortunately, we can’t do that in the Anthropocene time in which we live. For every piece of Roman pottery, every TV set or Tesla; there is a tree that has died, a motor turned on, or a mine that has been dug. And we call it progress…
Today’s society demands that when these items are no longer in use or replaced by something else, albeit apparently more efficient, another puff of CO2 goes up into that very delicate set of scales we have in the sky.
The waste industry (or more correctly, the environmental services industry), has been managing these Scope 3 emissions since long before climate change became the ‘must have’ discussion of the day.
No-one knows waste better than we do, yet we are often overlooked when it comes to finding workable solutions and answers
As the ‘great and the good’ get ready to descend on Glasgow for COP26 to ponder the latest crisis to befall the human race; they would do well to recognise the work our sector has been doing to recover and recycle society’s dirty secrets out of sight and out of mind for all these years.
No-one knows waste better than we do, yet we are often overlooked when it comes to finding workable solutions and answers.
For example, electric cars may have superseded those Model Ts and be seen as more ‘environmentally-friendly’, but it’s the waste industry which deals with the safe disposal of those lithium batteries.
You see what I mean, those ‘great and the good’ come up with the ideas and new inventions, but it’s our industry that is left to manage what happens to them at the end of their useful life.
Let’s hope that if COP26 has its fair share of modern-day ‘Neros’ who apparently ‘fiddled’ while Rome burned, they have the sense to invite some views from the experts who really know their stuff.