1 Deposit return scheme
After a consultation period last summer, the Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, on behalf of the Scottish government, announced earlier this month that a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles and cans was being introduced in Scotland within a couple of years. The focus will be on recycling but there’ll be the added bonus of a big reduction in littering – that’ll be no bad thing as so many of our streets look like middens, in contrast with those in some other European countries where you don’t even see a cigarette end lying about.
Customers will pay an extra 20p for each can and bottle which will be refunded either over the counter in small shops or via reverse vending machines in larger stores.
In spite of the squawks of protest from the usual suspects, this is nothing new for Scotland. From the late 19th century, glass drinks bottles were returned to shops first on a voluntary basis before the money-back scheme came in. However, the introduction of cans in the 1960s and then plastic bottles in the 1980s led, I understand, to the end of the return scheme though Barrs kept it going into this century.
Returning these containers will just become the norm again, in the same way we’ve gone back to taking message bags with us when we go to the shops and think nothing of it. Similar schemes operate perfectly well in other countries. Lithuania went from a figure of 34% recycling of drinks containers to 90% after two years of a deposit return scheme. In Norway in 2016, they recycled 598,355,791 plastic bottles which represented a 97% collection rate. The bottles can be recycled 12 times; clear ones get made into new bottles while coloured ones get made into new plastic material. This is all paid for by the drinks companies themselves, on a voluntary basis – but maybe helped along by the fact they get a tax reduction for doing so.
The UK Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, made a mean-spirited statement saying that the Scottish government was “motivated by the ideology of separatism”. Although he said in the same speech that he applauded “the ambition of Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish Environment Minister, in taking forward a deposit return scheme”, he added that it was “absolutely vital that we make sure it works UK-wide”. Get on with that then, Mr Gove, and stop carping. He’s clearly worried about the threat of a good example.
2 Aldi’s no-plastic trial
On 18 March, I was reading in The National about Aldi starting a 6-week trial of selling cabbages and cauliflowers with no plastic wrapping in their 85 Scottish stores. This, they reckoned would save half a ton of plastic but they wanted to see if it would result in increased food waste. Those 6 weeks must be up by now so I’m looking for a follow-up story, hoping that it’s been a success and that the 110 tons of plastic they use in total for wrapping their fresh produce can now be saved. Aldi have already got rid of black plastic trays for some of their products as they can’t be recycled and their target is to have all their own-brand products in recyclable, re-usable or compostable materials by 2022.
3 South Korea’s “yoghurt ladies”
Last month (24 April), I spotted a short film on the BBC news website called “South Korea’s ‘yoghurt ladies’ delivering friendship” and it was just uplifting. Yakult introduced yoghurt delivery there in the 1970s and at first, the workers had to pull carts; from 2014 the ‘yoghurt ladies’ have been using motorised fridges – you can watch them driving along the side of the street – and they see checking up on lonely old people as part of their job.
South Korea’s population is ageing faster than any other ‘developed’ country. Older people have been given emergency alert devices which is all fine and well but they do not combat loneliness. The ‘yoghurt ladies’ help with the taking of medicines and do some other minor chores. One of them (in translation) says: “and since this is a good act, I can do it with a good heart”. What a lovely feeling to have at the end of a working day.
Maybe we could set up a network of busybodies here in Scotland to help tackle our loneliness problem?
4 Bluebell woods
Also on the BBC news site, I read “Scotland’s bluebells at risk from social media fans” on 15 May. The Woodland Trust, Scotland, are concerned that in some woods, flowers are being trampled and bulbs being crushed so they’ll be unable to recharge themselves over the next few weeks. As a result, they’ll not flower next year. Folk are putting images online of themselves among the bluebells which encourages hordes of other visitors and the damage at some sites is described as “heartbreaking”. The Trust is asking people to stay on the paths and to keep their children and dogs under control.
I’m using “bluebells” as a general term to include both English bluebells and wild hyacinths (not the Scottish bluebell which is the harebell flowering later in the summer). I have both in the garden, the bluebell with the flowers just on one side of the stem and with a drooping head. There’s also a Spanish bluebell which we’re supposed to be discouraging as it’s a very vigorous alien species.
The bluebell is a protected species and is found mainly in ancient woodland. Euan McIlwraith had a story about bluebells on Saturday’s “Out of Doors” programme on Radio Scotland. He was saying that it’s the presence of bluebells that proves a certain woodland is “ancient” – if the flowers are growing there, that proves the wood has existed since at least 1750. It’s illegal to dig up or sell the wild bulbs and the flowers are an important resource for insects in early Spring.
In the past, the sticky sap from the bulbs was used to stop bleeding and also for binding pages in a book. Currently, they’re being researched as a possible cure for cancer.
Let’s walk in the woods if and while we can, look at the bluebells and inhale their scent. Let us do no harm to them. Let us enjoy the experience fully at first hand and not obsess about capturing images to show off later.
5 Tourists behaving badly
Did you hear about the four bikers who were detected on Friday driving at and above 100mph at Rhiconich in west Sutherland? They’re in their late forties and fifties so are not daft laddies but are truly selfish characters. A report is going to the Procurator Fiscal and I’m itching to suggest that the key should be thrown away, though not sure I should articulate that thought.
This North Coast 500 business is a mixed blessing as far as I’m concerned: if it’s not folk hurtling round trying to set some kind of speed record, it’s cars crawling along with no idea how to use passing places or camper van owners overnighting at the roadside and then emptying out the contents of their chemical toilets into burns.
I think it’s time for some firm action here in Scotland. In Barcelona, tourists can now be fined for being in beachwear in the city streets and in Florence, the mayor has told his streetcleaners to hose down any tourists who are sprawled picnicking on the steps of their churches. In Switzerland, it’s illegal to flush a toilet after 10pm – though if that’s just in hotels, I’m not sure.
6 What a “varity” is
A varity is a collection of bits and pieces. It was used to describe a quick meal that’s been thrown together using whatever was already available, by an old woman whose first language was Gaelic. The story was told to me by Chirsty Hamish, and like she did, I use the word with great affection.