Rupert Matthews: When it comes to the seemingly innocuous matter of recycling, we are now living in a tyrannical state
Rupert Matthews is a freelance historian who has had over 150 books published and was recently one of the MEP candidates for the Conservative Party in the East Midlands. You can read more about him on his website.
When the state serves the people, that is democracy. When the people serve the state, that is tyranny.
We like to think that we live in a democracy, but in an increasing number of ways we do not. We live in a tyranny. Not that anyone calls it by that name, partly because they dare not and partly because it is not recognised for what it is. The slippery slope by which a society moves to have a tyrannical state is gradual and slow – and very often the motives are the very best and most noble.
Take the seemingly innocuous matter of recycling. There was a time when everybody recycled everything that they possibly could for the simple reason that materials were relatively expensive and labour was relatively cheap. For this reason lemonade bottles had a deposit on them. When a person bought a bottle of lemonade they paid the deposit, and got it back when the empty bottle was returned. The bottle was then taken away to be washed, refilled and used again. Some of us still return milk bottles to the doorstep for the milkman to take away and reuse, time and time again.
Around the house recycling went on the whole time. Used string was detangled, knotted together and used again. Yesterday’s newspapers were carefully twisted into faggots to light tomorrow’s coal fires. School uniforms were patched up and passed on to a younger sibling.
Then materials became cheaper and labour more expensive. It became cheaper to buy things new than to reuse them. Milk could be bought from shops in cardboard cartons – which were then thrown away – instead of in glass bottles from the milkman. The amount of domestic rubbish generated by all of us increased rapidly. Of course some things were still reused. Yesterday’s unsold newspapers were used as hygienic wrapping for fish and chips until “health’n’safety” put an end to it. And when I was a boy I recall helping the Scouts collect old newspapers to be sold to a paper mill for recycling into cardboard. We made a good profit as I recall. But gradually we became more of a use-and-throw-away society.
Some people noticed this and believed that it was a waste of natural resources. They wanted to recycle things instead of just throwing them away. That did not mean they were willing to actually reuse the stuff in the old ways. The days when my Great Aunt Hilda had a copy of the Times and a pair of scissors in her outside toilet to do service as toilet paper were long gone. Instead there arose a demand for the state to provide facilities where paper, drink cans and bottles could be left to be collected and taken away to be reprocessed into fresh newspapers, drink cans and bottles.
I recall when I was first elected a councillor in 1990 the provision of what we called recycling centres was all the rage. The voters wanted places to deposit stuff for recycling, and as democratically elected councillors who wanted to be re-elected we happily provided them. Anyway, the council could sell the stuff on and make a modest profit.
Within a few years it became accepted by the state and its staff that recycling was “good”. It became an end in itself. The whole panoply of state bureaucracy came into play. Figures began to be collected and targets were set. As councils began to compete for national government approval and funds the amount of materials being collected for recycling rose exponentially. So the bottom fell out of the market. I recall the day our local scout group stopped collecting old newspapers. Instead of raising much needed funds by selling it, they could no longer give the stuff away. Nobody wanted it.
Whisper it, but some of the materials collected by councils for “recycling” actually went to landfill or incineration anyway. The paper, glass and metals collected are very often of a lower grade than new materials and have limited use. Once that demand has been met there is not much else to do with it. The limits that would have been imposed by the market had been reached.
Yet the state was now convinced that recycling was “good”, so recycling had to be stepped up even though there was no need for it. The EU could not resist getting involved, of course, so it brought in targets and measures of its own. The government brought in a Landfill Tax to discourage rubbish going to landfill even though we have more landfill sites than we know what to do with.
With a real financial incentive to remove rubbish from the stream that led to landfill, councils stepped up their recycling programmes. It was no longer a matter of providing facilities for those that wanted to use them, now people had to be dragooned into recycling whether they wanted to or not. When I recently queried the moral ethics of this with a councillor he replied that it was right to force a person to recycle because if they did not the council would have to pay increased Landfill Tax, and of course that meant that everyone would have to pay more Council Tax. The person who does not recycle is thus seen as being anti-social because his actions force his neighbours financial loss. Never mind that the tax in question is an entirely unnecessary tax imposed by the state, which then uses it as an excuse to force people to behave as it wants them to do.
And so we end up with fortnightly bin collections to help fund recycling collections. We see perfectly law abiding folk being prosecuted for putting paper into the wrong bin, or being fined for putting too much rubbish into the bin earmarked for landfill. The state has got hold of the idea that recycling is “good”, and has convinced itself that the people must be forced to recycle whether they want to or not.
This is not democracy. In its own small way it is tyranny.