Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rats and Recycling

Those of you who visit this blog from outside Oxford may well have recycling schemes including the alternate weekly collections that go with them. In our city, we have been behind the times. The recycling revolution is only now beginning. A third of the city is on the new scheme and already the recycling rate has jumped from 19% to 27%. Many people in my own ward have welcomed the new scheme but, quite understandably, some have had real worries about what feels like a leap into the unknown. And there is one fear that journalists have thought particularly newsworthy and which is worth sharing with you. It’s about a visceral phobia, about what happens in Room 101: it’s all about rats.

One lady in our city has recently had the very unpleasant experience of having rats in her house. I know how disturbing this can be because other Oxford residents I know had a similar experience a few years ago. For the lady in question, the arrival of rats coincided with the new recycling scheme. She herself has said that she doesn’t imagine that the scheme has created a rat problem in the city; her point, as I remember her saying, is that as the city is known to have rats, she argues the recycling scheme should not have been introduced.

The first thing to do is to put our hands up and admit: we in Oxford are no different from any other urban area – everywhere is living with rats. Not just rats but other vermin like foxes as well. They are here and have been here, in large numbers, for years. The situation hasn’t been helped in the past by the previous Council’s plans to save money by cutting pest control, but the main reasons for the national increase seem to lie elsewhere. The National Pest Technicians Association cites six reasons, top of the list being the privatised water companies failure to clear vermin from the sewers. As, in my experience, Thames Water sometimes doesn’t know where their drains are or what state they’re in, that sadly comes as no surprise.

The issue is not whether there are rats but whether their presence should stop us humans introducing a recycling scheme. And this is where I have a different take on matters. I want it both ways: I want us both to deal with the vermin and to get on with recycling. We know how important it is that we improve our recycling rate. It’s not just about the government fining all of us if we don’t decrease the amount we send to landfill. Much more positively, it’s about promoting more sustainable living, about all of us thinking about our habits and our lifestyles. It would be a counsel of despair to say ‘there are rats, so we can’t improve recycling.’ Not just that: it wouldn’t send the rats packing. Even if we had remained with the bad old system of waste collection, with bin-bags everywhere rather than wheelie bins where we can, there would still be people having to call out Pest Control officers to deal with vermin. Indeed, the figures suggest that there were even more incidents of vermin when the old scheme was in place. As the rats are here, we must deal with them. But that’s no reason to call a halt to other good deeds we have to do. Too often in local government, scarse resources mean we have to make impossible choices between competing good causes. In this case, I think we can be ambitious: we can – and must – deal with both issues side by side.

If any of the group of opponents of Oxford’s recycling revolution are reading this, I realise what I say will leave them with many more questions to ask. And, yes, there are many more issues about coping with recycling that deserve discussion. Bear with me and I’ll try to come to those in future postings. For those of you from outside Oxford, I wanted to share with you a tale that may well resonate with your own experience of introducing recycling.


Jo said...

What I want to know is when are the rest of us getting ours! After all, if I had my wheelie bin, then my black bags wouldn't keep getting openned by the Siamese from down the road looking for a snack :)

Jock Coats said...

Jack Russells are particularly good at ratting.

I notice that a new urban hunt has started up in London to mark the purchase of a home there by the Blairs called the Connaught Square Gardens Hunt.

Perhaps we should have a similar thing in Oxford. Give the Bullingdon and Grid clubs a new hobby perhaps?

Stephanie said...

Rats certainly flourished in central Headington long before the new system was imposed on us. Perhaps people should be threatening to withhold their water rates rather than our Council Tax?