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The International Writers Magazine - Our 23rd Year: Recycle Blues

The Blue Plastic Bag
Rani Drew

It was a victory for the environmental campaigners when they got the City Council to start a Re-cycling Collection Service. The scheme was launched with some aplomb. Plastic containers were delivered to each household, accompanied by an instructive letter about the need to re-cycle consumer waste. The aim was to raise the environmental consciousness in those who were not quite up to the 21st century concerns for the planet.

A chart was enclosed, which laid out re-cyclable and non-re-cyclable materials clearly under separate categories. Plastic was distinctly outlawed, as it still defied a re-cycling technology to pulp it. The delivery of the containers created some excitement and activity among residents as they tried to arrange a spot for the container from where it could be conveniently collected. Everyone filled it with bottles, newspapers and squashed cans, and made sure none of the banned articles found their way in, and waited to see how the scheme was going to operate.

So, one fine autumn morning the collection service was launched and a lorry turned into our street. Those who were home came to the window to see whether it was the same as the weekly bin collection vehicle, or something new. To their surprise a brand new white lorry was making its way slowly up the street. It had three different colour-coded outlets on the right-hand side, and the staff was uniformed in matching design and colours – white outfits, three-colour stripes and a white dove carrying bags of re-cycling waste. For the street, it was a historic beginning of a 21st century project. No one was ready to miss it. Four in number, the collection men had a smart look and moved to and fro collecting the containers from the pavement, sorting the waste meticulously, depositing it in the appropriate outlets and then taking the containers back to the spot they were taken from. Their manner and mode were altogether different from the weekly rubbish-bin collectors. Bit by bit the whole length of the street was covered; the operation was smoothly conducted taking no more than half an hour; even the noise sounded mellifluous compared with the grating screechy sound of the weekly rubbish collection. And of course, there was no smell. The watching faces in the street windows did not disappear until the van turned round – the street being cul-de-sac – and this time whizzed passed the houses without stopping.

As the autumn advanced and the winter lurked in the air with its frosts, the weekly re-cycling collection lost its newness for the residents. The promised meticulousness was already fraying at the edges as the containers were dumped back by the collectors on the pavement any old how rather than positioned systematically as at the beginning. It meant the pedestrians had to pick their way round them carefully and cyclists, especially children who chose to use the pavement for extra safety as the street parking was now allowed on both sides, had to wheel their bicycles with caution. Parents warned the children returning from school in the afternoon to take greater care in going past the containers as they did not get removed until the evening when most people returned from work. Increasingly, the pavements were not left clean after the collection was made; bits of newspapers, advertising papers, juice cartons, coca cola and squashed tins were found scattered around and needed to be picked up by the householders. Any plastic material – bags, coverings etc – were firmly left out with an invisible reminder, ‘You were told not to.’ In fact, after the collection, the pavements were left looking like mini tips. And if the rain and the notorious winds of the region were up to their mischief, there was no telling how far some of these left articles would travel to make their impact.

As the cold settled in and the wintry north wind raged through the road, those who tended to consume stacks of newspapers every week tried to organise their waste by putting the paper in plastic bags. This provided a certain fortitude to the bundles in the face of winds that rushed past them at a hurricane speed, and prevented the street being strewn with newspapers. But this did not please the collectors, who in increasing displeasure at this innovation involving plastic, started to leave the bags in a discarded state, either screwed up in the container or just thrown on the pavement as a repeated statement, ‘You have been told many times.’

It was on one such rainy and windy day that a blue plastic bag found out its outreach. The story of its trajectory goes like this. After a bag was emptied of its newspapers and magazines tightly stuffed in it, its blue plastic invoked a considerable irritation in the collectors. ‘Why the f…they can’t leave paper in the containers?’ ‘Teach them a lesson, mate; leave it out,’ said his colleague, ‘the only way they’ll learn.’ And so, the mate did what he was advised. The blue plastic bag was dumped next to the container and not put back in it. Next time, he muttered swearing, if the hint is not taken by the owners, he would pass up their container altogether.

The rain became torrential. The container filled up with water in no time, and the plastic bag got absolutely soaked and flattened out with no hope of serving as a filler-bag again. The downpour poured into it before making its way from the pavement to the drain below on the edge of the road. Soon the wind got up. It wasn’t exactly a hurricane, but it was fierce. It swished around like a sword, ready to cut down whatever fell in its way. The patch of blue plastic glared at it as a challenge to its cutting edge. The wind went for the bag a few times, with the intention of picking it up, tossing it round and up and landing it somewhere. But when it came to tackling the plastic bag, the task wasn’t as easy as it had looked. The bag had gone heavy with water, the plastic folds held bits of liquid in them, turning the bag into a small lake which wasn’t easy to dislodge. The wind lifted itself high, took another swoop in the air like a bird of prey then dived down once again. This time it managed to pick up one corner of the bag, making the water run down one side of it. The lake was now almost half-emptied, but the bag still not empty enough for it to be totally at the whim of the wind.

The wind was not pleased; in rage it lifted its current to a higher circle of air and took a mighty dive for the bag. As it hit the bag, to its surprise this time it turned neatly. Hurray! The wind whistled as it swept past it. The plastic bag, now light and dry, fluttered in delight. It was thrilled to sport with the wind. The wind was still circling and swooping when it saw that the bag was ready to take off. It swung down making merry round the bag and before it knew, the bag lifted itself into the flurry and started to float like a kite in the air. Suddenly the tree in front of the house across the road stopped it in its drunken flight. The blue bag was now firmly caught by its spiky branches high up. It waited to be disentangled by the wind but there was no sign of the wind anywhere. So it hung there a patch of blue plastic in a leafless tree.

Next day, it was sunny and still. A warm calm prevailed in the air. Not even the memory of the stormy weather remained in people’s minds – except the sight of the blue plastic bag, glaringly visible from the street.
‘Look, Mummy, a blue bag,’ a child pointed to the tree on the way to school next morning. ‘Dear, oh dear, look at that plastic in the tree,’ said the old woman on the way to the pillarbox on the corner, to post her letter. ‘What an ugly sight,’ said another woman as she looked out of her window from across the road and saw the bag hanging in the tree. She vaguely remembered stacking newspapers in a blue plastic bag. Why the hell couldn’t they stick it back in the bin? She was irritated by the bloody mindedness of the collectors and decided to lodge a complaint with the City Council about their tardy service.

After running the gauntlet of listening to message-machine for endless options on the diverse services offered by the Council, she finally got connected to the Environmental Cleansing Department number and heard a human voice. Exhausted by the convoluted journey to her destination, she got to the point right away.
‘A plastic bag hanging on a tree is an environmental eyesore. Could the department get it down?’
‘A plastic bag in a tree?’
‘Yes, between your servicemen and the north wind, we have a plastic bag stuck high up in a tree, and it will obviously stay there, unless taken down.’
‘We see the point you are making, but unfortunately, any work to do with trees falls in the Spring Services category.
‘When is that?’
‘Not before April, I’m afraid.’
‘It’s November now. So, you mean to say the plastic bag will continue to wave from the tree until then?’ Her exasperation was beginning to mount.
‘I’m sorry but there’s no other option. We work on seasonal rotas. I can make a note of this for our spring work on trees; and it can’t be until next Spring, and there’s a charge for the service.’ There was no apology in the voice.
‘I don’t see why we should pay for the bloody mindedness of your staff. Why couldn’t the collectors stick the plastic bag back in the bin, instead of leaving it on the pavement? It….’
She was interrupted. ‘If I may remind you, madam, residents are expected not to put any plastic in the containers. A list of cycable and non-cycable contents was distinctly left in each container.’
‘Does that mean any plastic left by mistake will be turned into litter by the environmental guardians?’ It was worth giving them a piece of her mind, she decided. ‘Let me tell you that the bag had a purpose. It was a caution against paper flying all over the road, in case of strong winds. Does that make sense to you?’
‘Not really. We are thinking of bringing in a fine system against those owners of the containers who use plastic bags to bag their waste-material. That will be the only way to make sure people obey the strict environmental code. We cannot….’

She banged the phone down. She called the residents meeting, and spoke quite passionately about the need to put pressure on the Council to direct their collection- service to a more conscientious spirit, in case of any violation of the strict regulations. But there was not much response from anyone. Some mentioned Germany having even stricter regulations for the residents to put out waste materials in absolutely separated categories; others told stories of how in Norwegian countries the whole street could be left out if more than five households failed to comply with waste-collection regulations. There was a clear insinuation that she was to blame in the end.

From that day on the woman avoided the front-room window in the daytime – the sunniest spot in the house; and while going to work, she made sure she didn’t look up across the road. Like a flag, the blue plastic bag will no doubt continue to fly through rain, cold or wind – and even the sun.

© Ms Rani Drew march 2009
ranidrew2002 at

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