Have you ever noticed the black columns of smoke rising to the sky in rural England on a Saturday evening?
Saturday is burning day for waste that isn’t legal to burn: bailing plastic, tyres, feed and fertiliser bags, plastic gloves, udder wipes, worming tubes…who knows what else.
The local council offices, the Environment Agency and DEFRA can’t be reached on Saturday evening, so nobody can report the illegal fire while it’s burning.
And in winter, plastic waste can be burned under the cover of darkness without having to stay up late…
… just as happened last night on a farm in the valley.
I smelled the acrid plastic fumes as soon as I stepped into our orchard before dinner, a stink that brought me right back to my childhood, when my dad burned the plastic wrapping of the blocks he built our house with.
That was in the early 1970s, and while the smell should have told us that all is not well with the practice then, detailed knowledge about the toxins released from low temperature open fires are now more common knowledge than when I was a kid.
Not that I want to excuse what went on on our building site – not at all! It was common practice then and it was wrong, even then. I am saying that we should learn something and change or behaviour accordingly.
Today, someone would have to try very hard to remain ignorant of the fact that burning plastic releases harmful chemicals into the air, soil and water.
Just one example of information freely available on the internet: Alexander Cogut (2016) has published a comprehensive overview over global open burning of rubbish, and at that time, approximately 41% of global trash was ‘disposed of’ in that way.
Do we really want to tolerate this on English soil? In 2021?
Cogut’s report highlights that the open burning of waste is carried out at relatively low temperatures and for that reason, releases a variety of pollutants. The main issues are:
- greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane
- particulate matter, which is air pollution that can cause severe cases of respiratory disease and coronary disease
- persistent organic pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans, all of which are known to cause cancer (carcinogens) and have been associated with causing other diseases.
Toxins are known to be particularly harmful to unborn fetuses, infants and children and can cause severe developmental damage in the young – in addition, air, soil and water pollution also damages ecosystems and wildlife.
Even if ignorance persists, ignorance is no defence in front of the law:
The Waste Management (England and Wales) Regulations 2006 classify agricultural wastes as ‘controlled wastes’ and it is prohibited to dispose of it by burning or burying. That includes, among other materials, plastic, foil, containers and even cardboard. Farmers have a legal duty to send waste off their farm, to be recycled, incinerated or go to landfill. Moreover, waste can only be transferred to authorised persons and a Waste Transfer note must be provided to show lawful disposal.
That’s a far cry from what happened last night!
Perhaps burning on site is permitted again since the UK left the EU???
Nope! Just checked gov.uk – as of today, 17 Jan 2021 there are no known changes to EU legislation related to the Waste Management (England and Wales) Regulations 2006.
I am writing here about general principles, not a single incident near where I live – that was just a trigger to get this off my chest!
Saturday is burning day all over rural England!
Update: I wonder how much plastic is used to light wood burners every day ????
Sometime between 7 and 8 am this morning I heard something on the Today programme (BBC Radio 4) that stunned me.
It was a piece about the government’s thoughts regarding a point-based immigration system, which favours highly qualified individuals who are going to contribute to the high tech economy the government is aspiring to. It mentioned that individuals who are not highly qualified, will not be able to enter the UK in the future, including people who supply catering and care providers with a high proportion of the required work force.
None of that stunned me – it’s been on the cards since BREXIT was on the cards. No, it was the government’s statements that the lack of care workers will be compensated for by introducing ‘automation and technology’. That stunned me on two counts:
1) People who need care are apparently not valued. They are not worth a decent wage for their carers. Even after BREXIT, people who want to work as carers, and are eligible to live in the UK, are not going to be offered an income that enables them to take up those jobs.
2) The skills, personal touch and conversation carers bring into the lives of people who require care are not valued – we can replace that by ‘automation and technology’, which means that the carers themselves are not valued.
I suggest the ministers and their advisers, who came up with this, spend a week as residents in a care home, so that they can experience what carers do for the cared for. And I suggest that they spend a week in a care home that provides ‘automated care’ and lots of ‘technology’. Maybe then they will finally realise that we Europeans were not such a blight after all….
I arrived in the UK in 1993 from continental Europe. I have learned here and invested a lot of my life in this country. I love living here, especially because I thought to be among people who are generally good at ‘live and let live’ while still caring – maybe people here are not perfect at this, but appear much better at it than where I come from. I’ve got a job I like and that allows me to give something back to society through education and research. I’ve got family and friends here.
I thought I could continue to shape my life without worrying about whether or not I have a right to be here. That right was a given and as I’ve always felt more European than anything else (except, maybe, eine Unterfränkin, but that’s a parochial joke and irrelevant here), I could not imagine this ever to change.
But it has. My world, as it relates to living in the UK, has become uncertain by the result of a referendum that was called for the wrong reasons, the campaigns for which were at best poor and at worst misleading on all sides, the outcome of which was not thought through by those who were responsible for thinking it out.
I’ll be applying for permanent residence to keep my options open. I know that it is irrational, but at the moment, I refuse to accept that my options should be curtailed by BREXIT after living here all this time.