something we all produce everyday. Before anyone
says it, yes, I know that I produce rubbish too.
Once a week, somewhere near the back of the Phuket
Gazette. But what can we do to redress the balance
a bit? Recycle? I’m not sure, to be honest.
Recycling is taught to children today as if it
were a religious doctrine; unbelievers who don’t
recycle will go straight to hell.
I wonder whether recycling is just a bit of a
Western scam to make consumers feel less guilty
about consumption. “I know consumption is bad for
the planet,” they may well think, “but I can still
buy heaps of stuff, because I recycle.”
Many local and national governments in the West
encourage their eager citizens to separate
diligently. Consequently, many homes have boxes of
carefully separated rubbish – a bin for paper, one
for glass and another for plastic. Huge trucks
then come along regularly to collect the contents
of these boxes.
Where does that truck’s oil and diesel come from?
Where does the energy come from to break down that
paper? Where does the water appear from that
mulches that paper? What about the bleach used on
the old paper to make new paper, or the fuel that
heats the glass up enough to melt it?
Even if it did make sense, everything is so
expensive over there that there’s no way it could
be economically viable. I wonder how much of this
stuff that disappears into the recycle truck’s
bowels actually makes it to where we think it’s
going? Will we ever know?
At least there’s one place where recycling in its
truest form exists very successfully – Thailand.
These old ladies with ancient sidecar motorcycles
that draw up outside your Phuket home every day
and rummage through the rubbish.
They all have their own specialties, it seems. The
plastic bottle ladies pick out the plastic stuff,
leaving the cardboard, paper and glass bottles to
their respective collectors who will inevitably
appear later. Even Phuket bin men are in on the
act – as they empty your bin, they do the
separating for you, and make sure everything ends
up in exactly the right place.
There’s no scam or government-backed feel-good
factor here – you know full well that this stuff
really will be used again or recycled. And even
better, these bin men and sidecar ladies are
making a few baht from it. Now that’s recycling at
Recycling in the West probably wastes more than it
saves. Instead of recycling, why not reuse and
refuse – and not only plastic bags from the
supermarket, but everything. Bread wrappers are
sandwich bags. Tin cans are pencil holders.
Refusing is not using in the first place. Don’t
buy a newspaper with the idea of recycling. Read
someone else’s. Then leave it where yet another
person can find and read it. Bring your own
plastic bags to the supermarket. And so on. Bert
the environmentalist? I’ll be hugging trees next.
Conservation organizations themselves are equally
guilty of producing rubbish. They try to give the
impression that by sending out their junk mail,
which you never asked for in the first place, on
recycled paper they are helping the natural
The best way for them to help the natural
environment would be for them not to send out
unsolicited junk mail in the first place. That
really would be conservation.
You can reuse and recycle in your garden, too.
Once you’ve collected all your bits of coconut
husk, stray leaves, grass clippings and plant
trimmings, rather than stuffing them into plastic
bags and leaving them outside to be taken away,
why not put them to use in your garden?
Coconut husks are like surrogate plant pots –
they’re brilliant. Instead of going to Homepro and
buying half a dozen of those cheap, nasty little
orange plant pots, drill a hole in the bottom of a
few coconut husks and you have plant pots that
haven’t cost you a penny and are environmentally
Even the plants that grow in them are likely to be
happier, as the roots will meet something natural
as they grow out, rather than an impenetrable
plastic wall. Bromeliads such as orchids are very
much at home on a chunk of coconut husk – all they
need is something to grab hold of.
Most garden rubbish can be recycled on site as
mulch or compost. “Recycling” is probably a bit of
a misnomer, as it implies that you actually have
to do something. Far from it.
Leaves can be used on their own as a mulch, but
they’re somewhat unwilling to stay in place in
windy locations and they easily wash away from
beds during heavy rain showers. Leaves perform
best as a mulching material when they are shredded
Grass clippings are the least ideal mulching
material. They are easily blown away by the wind,
decompose very rapidly, and can pack down to form
a mat that could exclude air and water from the
root zone. Therefore, spread grass thinly over the
ground, mixed with other mulching materials or
even better, composted with other yard waste so it
sticks together more effectively.
In an ideal world, trimmings such as twigs and
small branches should be shredded before they are
used as a mulch. A mechanical chipper/shredder is
needed for this process. As most of us don’t have
one of these devices on standby, you’ll probably
have to either dump or burn your clipped branches
So what to do with this mulch stuff? You can use
it around plants in beds or around individual
trees and shrubs in a lawn. Eliminating grass from
around plants greatly reduces the competition for
water and nutrients from the turf and increases
the growth rate and health of trees and shrubs.
In addition to being useful around plants, you can
use mulch as ground cover for walks, trails,
driveways, and play and natural areas. It can also
be composted and used as a soil amendment for
flower and vegetable gardens.
The amount of mulch to apply will depend on the
texture and density of the mulch. Compost and many
wood and bark mulches are composed of fine
particles and shouldn’t be any deeper than about
10 centimeters after settling. Excessive amounts
of these fine-textured mulches around
shallow-rooted plants can suffocate their roots
causing disease and poor growth. Mulches composed
solely of leaves or grass clippings should never
be more than about five centimeters in depth.
Recycle because it saves a few baht or because you
want to. Or don’t recycle at all, and leave it to
the experts – those sidecar ladies will be here
before you know it. I’m only too happy to donate a
few small green bottles to them; and that means
it’s time for another Heineken.