An Olympic Legacy on the road-side?

Cans collected in three days from local verges

For years now, I’ve been in the habit of collecting dead drinks cans from the roadside, as I walk the dog.  If I remember, I’ll take one of those plastic shopping bags that the Greens hate so much — my record haul from one walk was over thirty cans.  More often, I collect a handful, crushed flat, in my jeans hip pocket.  And of course they go for re-cycling.

I do this partly to tidy the lanes (though I draw the line at plastic bottles, fag packets, and McDonalds drinks cups and wrappers).  Partly to demonstrate that climate sceptics are not necessarily careless of the environment.  And partly because aluminium is one category where recycling is an unambiguous benefit.  Other areas are decidedly iffy.  It may be better to crush glass bottles for hardcore rather than recycle.  For plastic, paper and cardboard, incineration-with-energy-recovery may be the best option.  Odd how the Greens love bio-mass, but hate cardboard incineration.  What is cardboard but bio-mass?

But with aluminium, the energy involved in extracting bauxite from the ground, and extracting the metal from the bauxite, is huge, and the advantage of recycling unequivocal.

As it happens, I drive an aluminium car.  I suppose there’s an outside chance that some of the aluminium I’ve collected over the years is now parked in my cart-hovel.

And the Olympic angle?  Since the Games have started, I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the proportion of so-called “energy drinks” amongst my daily haul.  The picture above shows just three days’ worth.  There’s “Red Bull”, and “Revive & Survive”, and “Source”, and the quaintly-named “Euro-Shopper Energy Drink”.

I’ve also noticed a considerable increase of the number of cyclists on the roads.  Can it be that a generation has been inspired to take to their bikes — and that they’re drinking energy drinks and tossing the cans aside?  I hope not.  I have no proof.  But it’s a plausible theory backed by strong circumstantial evidence.

May I appeal to cyclists — if you carry a full can when you start out, please carry the empty can to the end, and dispose of it properly.

For my fiftieth birthday, I was given a Taiwanese mountain bike (also aluminium, as it happens) and I rode it extensively in Singapore (Sentosa Island) and in the UK, until I was elected to the European parliament in 1999.  After that, I never seemed to have the time for cycling (dog-walking takes priority).  I have a dream: if and when I eventually retire, I may get the bike out, and refurbish it, and do some more cycling.  And being of a libertarian cast of mind, I’ll hope that I can make my own decision about cycling helmets, pace Bradley Wiggins.

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12 Responses to An Olympic Legacy on the road-side?

  1. Malcolm Edward says:

    I help in a yearly clean up around the village where I live, and it is staggering the amount of rubbish (as you describe) that there is along the roadside, much of it hidden by the long grass verges and hedges, but there nevertheless (usually a bin liner full within 300 yards).

  2. Mike Spilligan says:

    I know that many people hate the idea of waste incineration, but In Vienna (a city where I lived 20 years ago) there is an incineration plant** hardly more than three miles from the city centre. Now the Austrians are never behind the times when it comes to environmental care, and have been for decades, so can anyone tell me how they can do this when we find it so difficult?
    (**For the aesthetically inclined, it has Hundertwasser styling and decorative effects.)

    • Mike: I understand the reasonable concerns of local residents about waste incineration, but modern high-temperature incineration, properly monitored and regulated, is perfectly safe. It’s always the same: we want better rail travel, but don’t want a new railway line at the bottom of the garden. We want better mobile phone coverage, but we don’t want masts. We want to fly to Benidorm for the holidays, but we don’t want an airport. We want power stations but we don’t want fracking or coal mines or nuclear nearby. And we expect our bins emptied, but we don’t want landfill or incineration. I’m afraid Blair was right when he said we had to make tough choices. In this case, between local amenities and modern infrastructure. But the risks of energy extraction and generation are as nothing compared to the perils of running out of electricity.

      • neilfutureboy says:

        Though the comunity most supportive of nuclear is at Sellafield where they appreciate the jobs – other communities with nuclear nearby show similar feelings. I don’t know how much the feeling against each of these is a general local feeling and how much it is that the TV & media (BBC in the lead) only report those who are against. Are all the people around Heathrow against expansion or do some of them work there? Are some of the local protestors people who have been “locals” in a whole range of places?

        I suspect it is less clearcut than we are told. Except for windmills where the locals opposing them clearly are local and the media excoriate them.

  3. neilfutureboy says:

    The electricity cost of refining bauxite may be high but it is a very common element in the Earth’s crust so we are not going to run out.

    Thus if there were no electricity shortage there would be no “environmental” argument for bothering to recycle cans. In fact there is no technological reason for an electricity shortage – it is entirely the fault of our politicians. We could have unlimited electricty from nuclear at about 7% (yes 7%) of current prices. This is available for at least 5 billion years, longer than the Sun will last.

    As a general rule most arguments for “environmental” saving of things are a way of reinventing scarcity estimates because the universla mechanism for measuring scarcity – the price system – doesn’t come up with politically approved answers. Basically if you want to minimise the “environmental” cost it almost always turns out than minimising the money cost is the best way.

  4. Wilfred Aspinall says:

    The mind boggles at seeing Roger in Lycra


    • Indeed, Wilfred! At least no one has accused me of being an old curmudgeon critical of the Olympics. Frankly I can’t get very excited about sport, but of course I’m delighted to see Team GB doing us proud. And Jessica Ennis.

  5. David C says:

    “But it’s a plausible theory backed by strong circumstantial evidence.”
    There’s no circumstantial evidence Roger. Correlation is not causation, which you as a climate sceptic should know.
    I must say in all my years cycling I’ve never seen a cyclist lobbing a tinny into a hedgerow, but I’ve all too frequently seen them thrown from car windows, sometimes at cyclists.
    I have seen cyclists do many barmy things though, most commonly recently chatting on the mobile whilst not looking where they are going.

  6. Pericles says:

    Please consider also the plight of the animals that can become trapped in discarded containers or swallow and choke on other waste.

    Thanks to all that rid the countryside of litter.


    • As I’ve shaken the dregs out of discarded beer cans, I’ve occasionally seen drunken slugs come out. I suppose they died happy.

      • Pericles says:

        Funny you should say that, Mr. Helmer :  when I take my bicycle out for a ride, my progress is slower than it might be because interrupted so frequently by my dismounting to crush a can (to prevent a paw from becoming trapped in its orifice) and I do the same.  Not much point in saving one critter from injury and crushing another under foot.

        I confess I don’t bring the cans back with me, as you do ;  if I did, I’d not be able to pedal the machine by the end of the journey !


  7. Hugh Davis says:

    Please don’t blame the cyclists for discarded cans, Roger.

    a) the cans in your photo are not containers of the type of energy drinks consumed by cyclists
    b) cyclists do not carry cans; they decant drinks into purpose built drinks bottles before setting off
    c) both recreational and sporting cyclists dislike litter as much as you do.

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