rubbish cars rain abbaye 217.JPG

What with one thing and another, democracy’s been on my mind recently.

Thinking about it, I got diverted by the bin bags in Leonard Cohen’s song Democracy:

I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming
To the USA

Bin bags feature in British political iconography too.


Piled up along the street, they evoke the end of the Callaghan government in 1979, the “Winter of Discontent” when strikes in the public sector meant that rubbish was not collected.

More recently, a senior official with whom I worked got stuck behind a bin lorry in his car on his way to work. In a policy document he was drafting, he proposed that rubbish collection during the rush hour should be banned. The democratic process meant that this proposal did not see the light of day.

public services rubbish truck rue demot 505.JPG

As for me, I think the regular rubbish collections our cities organise are one of the great achievements of our civilisation. Cities’ success in getting us to subdivide our rubbish (yellow for paper, blue for tins and plastics, green for garden rubbish, white for the rest) – even more so. This is something that democracy does pretty well.

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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