Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

That it should come to this. I suddenly realised I was bent double over my wheelie bin, my head inside it, riffling for rogue bits of plastic or cardboard thrown in by neighbours or passing drunks, or passing drunk neighbours. 'I'm a civilised person, reduced to the status of a bum!' I screamed in outrage when I realised what I was doing.

If you had written a sci-fi novel in the Sixties you could not have predicted that the year 2011 would see law-abiding, middle-class people riffling desperately through garbage.

But as macabre as it sounds, it's actually worth doing for the amount of money I could save. Despite government promises to change the law, it's still a £1,000 fine for not recycling in my area right now. And as far as I can see, there is no way the council can know who is recycling and who isn't so the possibilities for getting fined are limitless.

I share a bin with my upstairs neighbours.

The council cannot tell which orange sacks left on the pavement by the bin are mine and which are the girls' upstairs. Any rogue items in any bin or orange bag left near my house could land me with a fine.

My rubbish obsession is now such that I spend unbelievable amounts of time worrying about waste products and where they should go. I am particularly anxious about whether soiled newspaper from the inside of the rabbit litter tray should be put in the orange bags or the black bin.

Imagine getting a £1,000 fine for throwing a wee-stained copy of the Tooting Guardian in the wrong bin? It would be too unbearable. It might make me lose it completely. In years to come when people visit me in The Cedars Home for the Permanently Bewildered, they will say, 'What was it that finally tipped her over the edge did you say? A rabbit dropping in a recycling sack?'

Don't laugh. It could happen. A friend of mine recently had his wheelie bin rejected for collection on the grounds that there was a piece of cardboard in it. As such, I am leaving nothing to chance. I have decided I must do everything I can to protect myself.

So I rang Lambeth Council's refuse department to ask for advice. I told the girl there the full extent of my concerns. 'What's your name?' she asked suspiciously. I panicked. 'Why do you need my name? …

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