Talking rubbish

Andrew Brightwell is sick of our city’s stinky bins

The Knowledge

Dubai stinks – but don’t worry, we’re not talking metaphorically. Well, actually you probably should still worry. As the temperature rises and as the open bins fill with waste, the air around them also fills – with an awful, terrible stench. This odour is enough to send grown men into convulsive fits (as a man, albeit only arguably fully grown, I should know).

These steel cases of fly-swarming horror are to be found everywhere in this otherwise beautiful city. They are the manful attempt of the Municipality to deal with a very difficult problem – the city’s growing addiction to disposal. We each, no doubt, have our opinions on whether these attempts are sufficient, but this short article is not an attempt to add to that particular debate. My complaint is with the individual’s attitude to waste. We live – to recycle, if you’ll pardon the irony, a well worn expression – in a disposable culture. Everything we buy comes wrapped, packed and packaged in card, plastic, wire and polystyrene, all of which we swiftly throw away.

Our attitude to food is disposable, too. Meals are often not finished – despite the considerable price we seem prepared to pay for almost all edibles here in the desert – and the leftovers quickly find their way to those omnipresent steel bins. Previous generations, all over the world, would balk at such profligacy. In fact, they’d go spare. They’d tell us we were fools and they’d point out, not without good reason, that our carelessness will one day cost us. And they’d be right.

As we face an ever less sustainable future on a planet with ever higher temperatures, our attitude to waste will have to change, because the resources used to drive our carelessness are growing rarer and their impact on the Earth all the more dangerous. It is easy to sit back and hope that companies and governments will do the hard work for us: banning excessive packaging and offering recycling facilities. But why should we rely on them? Companies are only interested in our money – and will therefore only do what makes them a return. Governments have other concerns and often, even in the best of examples, find it difficult to act quickly.

Sadly, these bins are our concern. And therefore we should learn to throw less away. This must start with a more intelligent attitude to consumption. To buy and prepare only what we will eat and to find ways to recycle or give away what we are not able to use. Then, perhaps, the bins – a barometer of our attitude to waste – will smell a little less.

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