“Oh don’t throw that in there – they don’t like citrus.”
I pause for a second, the orange peels in my hand, thinking that they will take what they’re bloody well given. The finicky so-and-sos. If they were out in Somalia….
‘They’ in this case are a colony of worms who’ve been living in our back yard for the last three years. By colony, I don’t mean they were invited here by a rogue local chieftain with ambitions to be High King, decided to stay amidst much bloodshed in order to plunder our hardwood timber to build ships to fight the Spanish Armada.
We bought them and they live in a wormery. Their job is to eat a selection – it turns out, a narrow one – of our food waste. They are tiger worms. The word ‘tiger’ in this case refers to the striped banding around their body rather than any proclivity for kidnapping or sex addiction.
Although they have been at it. After three years, the wormery resembles Home And Away: no one knows who anyone’s parents are and very few of the original cast are around. I think I recognise one worm that’s been there from the start. An Alf Stewart worm expressing his frustration about early birds. “Stone the flamin’ crows”.
The most attractive thing about tiger worms is their ability to turn eggshells into Miracle Gro and for the past three years they have been silently going about their business.
All they need from us to help them do their job is to keep them supplied. And that requires us to get our hands dirty. And sort our rubbish.
Some types of recycling are old hat now. Most people recycle their glass. Some leave their glass in plastic bags near the bottle bank, which proves that even arseholes have a certain instinct for recycling. Plus a trip to the bottle bank can have a therapeutic benefit. You can exorcise some personal demons as you hurl the glass in and hear it break inside.
“And THIS is for the heavy showers when I’d just hung out the washing PICKLISH! And THIS is for that driver who didn’t put on his hazard-lights to say thanks after I allowed him out onto the road in front of me BODDUNGPLOSH! And THIS is for the opening sequence in The Apprentice where they walk across the bridge trying to look business-like…” (Actually that bit just sends me walking around the streets with a broken bottle in my hand looking for apprentices.)
After a few years, the green bins came along and we put all our paper into them, complete with letters containing enough personal information to enable even a Transition-Year-Work-Experience identity thief to get a passport in our name.
In some parts of the country there are extra compost bins for those weirdos who do not keep a box full of soft-bodied invertebrates next to their bicycles. They take all ick! and eugh! from your food bin and are also used for storing most of the flies in the world.
Finally, the Bin Bin takes everything else. Whatever the worms won’t touch, what can’t be recycled, the tray the raw chicken came in and those items that accumulate around the house that defy categorisation – polystyrene, the yoke off the thing for the handle on the whatsit. The Bin Bin makes no judgements, asks no questions.
The less that goes in the Bin Bin, the cheaper. The only impulse that overpowers my natural laziness – my natural meanness – has turned us into good recyclers.
But every so often, we slip. One day last week, having temporarily run out of things to say to each other, we decided to tidy the food cupboard and the fridge. When done, we were faced with a pile of glass jars full of farmer’s market impulse buys. Chutneys made of earnestness, hipster pesto, chillies floating in oil like specimen jars in the lab of a sinister scientist. Some of these delicacies were bought when guilt forced us to ‘give something back’ after standing for an hour in front of an expectant stallholder cleaning out the last of their sample jars with the last of their crackers. Then we got home and realised what made the dips particularly tasty was their freeness. Now, after many months at the back of the fridge or cupboard, behind the staples, they are a shadow of their former perky selves. The swirly writing and sketch of a cottage on the label is doing little to mask the horror that lurks inside.
The right thing to do is to assiduously clean out each jar and bring the glass to the therapy bank. But that requires opening each jar and possibly releasing the kind of smell you would get at a Bangladeshi ship-breaking yard.
The glass jars are put in a plastic bag and placed in the Bin-Bin. Not composted, not recycled. Just thrown away. The clink of the glass makes the sound of unsustainable-Western-consumerist hang-the-consequences living as it lands amongs the other untouchables. Oh the decadence! It was so wrong yet it felt so good. Like eating a packet of Mighty Munch, Burger Bites and Meanies BEFORE your dinner.
And then the post-dumping guilt afterwards – like you’d just heaved a broken couch out of a van, over a ditch and onto a corncrake’s nest.
I’m still feeling this shame of this unsorted rubbish crime later that evening. As I feed the worms I swear the Alf Stewart one is looking at me. His expression – if a worm can be said to have an expression – seems to say: “Ye flamin’ mongrel”.