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Rubbish Recycling

How do you manage your recycling when you are visually impaired? And how squinting may have helped Leonardo da Vinci's art.

What help can you get if you struggle to recycle your rubbish? Listeners talk about the problems they have with recycling their rubbish: from knowing which bin to put the right rubbish in, to finding it again once it has been collected. We talk to Wayne Priestly from the Association for Public Service Excellence about what help visually impaired-residents can expect to receive from their local council.

Professor Christopher Tyler from London City University believes he has found evidence artist Leonardo da Vinci had an eye condition called Strabismus – where the eyes are misaligned. He thinks this may have had an impact on the way Da Vinci represented three-dimensional art on a canvas. Ross King, biographer of Claude Monet, says Monet's cataracts impacted his work later in life.

Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Lee Kumutat

Available now

19 minutes

In Touch Transcript: 30-10-2018

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

 

IN TOUCH – Rubbish Recycling

TX:  30.10.2018  2040-2100

PRESENTER:          PETER WHITE

PRODUCER:            LEE KUMUTAT

 

 

White

Good evening.  Do you dread this sound [bin lorry], you know that realisation when you wake up and you hear the rolling bins and you think – oh my goodness, I’ve forgotten to take it out again.  Well, tonight, how to get the right rubbish into the right bin when you can’t see what you’re doing.  As recycling gets more and more complex we look for some answers to what feels like a forgotten problem.  And could the work of some artists have been enhanced by their failing sight?  Did, for example, Leonardo Da Vinci have a squint?  We’ll find out later.

 

But first, you don’t work on In Touch for very long without realising that almost every problem has a blind friendly solution and it’s as likely as not to come from a listener.  But initially when we began looking at the challenges of recycling we came up against an unusually blank wall.  We were thinking about it because the new producer of the programme, Lee Kumutat, as many of you will know is herself blind, moved and discovered that she needed to solve this problem all over again about how to recycle.  For a start, different councils always have differing approaches to what they want in which bins, indeed how many bins they give you and how they deal with people who fail to abide by their rules.  And very few people we approached about this appeared to have given much thought to how visually impaired residents could be helped to do their bit.

 

So, before we come to solutions, how do blind and partially sighted householders cope at the moment?  Tom Walker has been getting some answers from Liverpool and first, Birmingham.

 

Fain [phon.]

Hi, I’m Josh Fain, 29 years old, I live on my own with two small children and I work with visually impaired people.

 

Walker

Do you recycle?

 

Fain

I try to, however, due to the colour of the bins it’s difficult to understand which bits of rubbish go into which of the bins.

 

Walker

What colour are your bins, do you know?

 

Fain

The normal refuge one is a black and red colour and the other one is a dark green colour.  However, I’ve got another one, as well, which is purple, which I struggle quite a lot to do it, so I end up sometimes putting my normal refuge into the green waste bin.

 

Walker

Have you been told off by your local council for doing that?

 

Fain

The bin men have picked me up on it on a number of times, however, they’re quite understanding when I explain about my visual impairment.  One of the biggest problems is when they introduced the bins I was not told or given any of the information, so, it was just given it to me and the form that they gave me to explain what was going in what was in paper format which obviously I couldn’t read. 

 

Walker

Do you know actually though what rubbish should go in which bin?

 

Fain

So, I’m led to believe, but this hasn’t been told explicitly by the council to me, it’s just what I’ve heard of – the black bin is for my normal refuse, the blue bin – I believe – bluey purple is for plastic and glass and the greeny bin is for garden waste.  And that’s all I know.  I got given two plastic boxes as well – blue and red colour – never been told what they were for either, so it is very difficult to be honest.

 

Walker

What needs to be done to enable somebody like you to recycle successfully?

 

Fain

Better communication from the local authority, engaging me through the website or promoting it or sending me information in the format I want it.  And potentially maybe doing something with the bins, consulting with blind and partially sighted people on how – what type of bin would be more helpful – different shapes potentially.

 

Walker

And what about the indications on the packaging itself, do they help you at all?

 

Fain

No, they don’t, Tom, and unfortunately, I don’t live with anyone either, so I can’t get any help from those people either.

 

Walker

In an ideal world would you like to be able to recycle your rubbish?

 

Fain

Yes Tom, I would really like to recycle more, it’s not a fact of being lazy, it’s just the fact of living on my own and not having the information in the format I need, so I can’t physically do it.

 

Mitchell

So, this is where I keep my water in the fridge, like most people I guess, and that’s my water bottle which is ready to go into the recycling now because it’s empty.  So, I tend to pile everything up by the front door here Tom.  So, I’ve got my water bottles, without the tops, and I’ve got my tins and my paper, so that’s all ready to go outside now.

 

Walker

I’ll follow you.

 

Mitchell

So, in Liverpool our recyclicable bins are our blue ones.  So, I always make sure that my bins are in the same area.  And in everything goes.  Apart from bottle tops.

 

Hello, my name’s Ian Mitchell, I live in South Liverpool, I’ve been visually impaired since birth and I have albinism, nystagmus and photosensitivity.

 

Walker

Ian, let’s talk rubbish.

 

Mitchell

Again?

 

Walker

Do you recycle?

 

Mitchell

I do my best to recycle Tom, I have to be honest, I’m not always sure I get it right but the will is always there.

 

Walker

What are the specific problems you experience?

 

Mitchell

I think the problems that I experience is really not having enough information to know what’s recyclable and what’s not.  I do have some sight, so I’m fortunate in the fact that I can distinguish between the bins.  In Liverpool it’s three different colours, so if you can see colours then you’re fine but if you can’t see colours then there’s no tactile differences, no size or shape difference to the bins, so you’d be a bit stuck I should imagine.

 

Walker

You do your best to recycle but I think you’ve recently found you’ve been getting one or two things wrong.

 

Mitchell

Yeah, I always thought that anything that was plastic was recyclable.  So, I drink an awful lot of water, so there’s three components to bottles of water – there’s the package the water bottles come in, there’s the bottles themselves and there’s the bottle tops.  So, I used to put all three in the bin and recently, on listening to the radio, I found out that bottle tops should not be recyclable.  So, I know – now I don’t put the bottle tops in but the bottle goes in and now I’m not sure what I do with the packaging – does the packaging go in or do I not put the packaging in. 

 

Walker

One thing I wasn’t aware of is that there are markers on packaging and tins etc., which tell you whether they can be recycled – was that something you were ever aware of?

 

Mitchell

No, I can’t say it is, that puts another spin on it because I might be recycling other things that I shouldn’t be putting in the bin but I guess I’ve got a choice, haven’t I, either try and recycle or I don’t recycle and the process after it leaves my bin I guess I have to rely on other people to determine whether I’ve put the right thing in the bin or not.

 

Walker

Have you ever had any comeback from the local authority telling you that you’re getting things wrong?

 

Mitchell

Yes, I once had a sticker put on my bin telling me that I was naughty because I’d put some polystyrene in there once and they’d obviously opened the bin and seen it.  So, I had to remove that and put it into the normal rubbish.

 

Walker

What needs to be done to make it easier for people like you to recycle properly?

 

Mitchell

More information, more accessible information should I say because I daresay the city council come back and say it’s all on their website but if you’ve ever tried to sift through a government website it’s not always the easiest thing to try and find information.  So, maybe information in leaflets or braille formats or alternative formats that actually give us the information of what we need.

 

White

Tom Walker reporting there from Liverpool and Birmingham.

 

Well the problem seems to be that there’s no consistency of approach to recycling.  A typical reaction we got when we talked both to councils and the Chartered Institute of Waste Management was a sympathetic interest in the problem but an admission that there wasn’t any concerted policy about how to help visually impaired people. 

 

Well Wayne Priestly is principal advisor on environmental mattes at APSE – that’s the Association of Public Service Excellence – and they advise local authorities on best practice.  And Wayne joins me in the studio.

 

You’ve heard what those residents have to say and what was clear that they weren’t indifferent to the issues, you know they wanted to do it, they wanted more help so that they could recycle efficiently.  What would you say to them, what help should local authorities be able to offer them?

 

Priestly

I would say most local authorities probably when they send out the information on recycling are not aware that people have visual impairments.  So, the first thing people need to do is notify the local authority of that situation because otherwise they will treat everybody the same and therefore the information you get will be on paper, it’ll be on your bin, which if you’re visually impaired really isn’t much use.

 

White

You see that isn’t necessarily something that somebody would want to do – visually impaired people don’t go telling everybody – they’d hope to be able to move into a place and be – I understand your point but it probably wouldn’t come naturally to people to do that.

 

Priestly

No and I appreciate that as well.  But I think if they are struggling with that any person would get hold of the local authority – there was one instance where a gentleman there had had a sticker placed on his bin saying you’ve got it wrong, that happens to everyone and usually what happens is the local authority will send a recycling officer down to offer advice.  Now the issue here is they’ve got to do that sensitively because people have got an impairment there but they need help.  And that is the best way to get the recycling done because then they can offer that help whether it be assistance with collections, whether it be putting things on bins to make them more tactile, if you like, to understand what goes in those bins.  And there are examples across the country of that.

 

White

Of course, I mean there is that issue of which bin is which and colour isn’t very helpful but there’s also the issue of what you’re allowed to recycle and what you aren’t.  Ian gave the example of bottles, the actual plastic cover you can do but not the bottle tops, for example.  There’s a lot of that kind of thing isn’t there?

 

Priestly

Yea and I think the problem with that is each local authority has its own arrangements to dispose or send for treatment the waste it collects and often the processing plants are different in each authority.  And you will get those that can handle that type of material and some that can’t and there is therefore a need to speak to the producers of these materials and find out can they make this packaging easier to recycle.

 

White

What are the chances of getting some kind of concerted policy?  I appreciate that local authorities are all independent, they want to do things their own way but this isn’t really about doing it different ways, is it, it’s about having agreed methods of labelling, it’s about having perhaps agreed policies in terms of collection – would that be too much to ask?

 

Priestly

Well certainly, I think the government’s developing a new waste strategy which is looking at producers making materials which are far more recyclable and easier to recycle.  And if that was the case then it would make it far easier for local authorities to collect because the waste wouldn’t be as complicated to collect and it would therefore be easier for people to know which bins to put waste in.

 

White

But my point is you’ve got organisations like the LGA – the Local Government Association – and yourselves – is it beyond the wit of those organisations to have a concerted policy, at least about things like identification?

 

Priestly

No, I don’t think it’s beyond that and I think it’s something that is being looked at and particularly now that a lot of the waste that the UK – recyclable waste that the UK used to send abroad to be processed, a lot of that now has been rejected by countries like China and other South East Asian countries.  So, therefore, the quality of recyclables has got to be better and the only way you can do that is to make it simpler to recycle.

 

White

Wayne Priestly of the Association of Public Service Excellence.  And one little tailpiece to that – we’re hoping that this item will start conversations about this issue and the Chartered Institute for Waste Management did tell us that they were hoping to start some work on the subject with other relevant organisations.  Let’s have your top tips for recycling please.

 

Sadly, it’s a bit late now to get some top tips on painting and sculpting from Leonardo Da Vinci but the fact is that there is a strong possibility that despite his enormous artistic talent, Leonardo, may well have been visually impaired.  The evidence suggests that he had strabismus, that’s an eye condition where the eyes aren’t properly aligned, in other words that he had a squint.  But that far from being a disability for an artist this might explain his rare ability to bring an impression or depth and distance to paintings on a flat canvas.  It’s a puzzle which Christopher Tyler, who’s Professor of Optometry at London City University, has been determined to clear up.

 

Tyler

So, the kind of strabismus that he had seems to be intermittent exotropia, so the eyes are divergent but in some portraits they’re straight.  So, this suggests the condition of intermittent exotropia in which the person can straighten their eyes if they’re very attentive but if they are inattentive or relaxed one eye will drift out.  So, this means that two eyes are not working well together and in fact this would generate the impression of double vision, so the person would see everything double and the brain deals with this by suppressing the image from one eye.  So, in that case they’re seeing with monocular vision.  With monocular vision everything looks much flatter, this may be an advantage for artists because they’re trying to translate the three-dimensional world on to the flat canvas.  On the other hand, the fact that the condition is intermittent means that people with this condition may be well aware of the sort of transition between three dimensions and two dimensions and give them an enhanced awareness of the cues, the painterly cues, that convey a three-dimensional impression on the canvas.

 

White

So, you’re saying that Leonardo Da Vinci would have known, I mean he could tell that he had this condition, that he saw things differently to other people and he was making use of this in his painting?

 

Tyler

The implication is that he was able to make use of it and it would go part way to explain why he was so exquisitely sensitive to the three dimensionality and was able to bring it out unlike other artists of the era. 

 

White

Professor Christopher Tyler.

 

Well other later famous painters may also have had this condition – Rembrandt, possible Salvador Dali.  And this isn’t the only eye condition with which painters have struggled and sometimes enhanced their work. 

 

Ross King is the biographer of Claude Monet who began losing his sight in later life.

 

King

By 1912 when he was about 72 years old he made the discovery then, as he put it, he was blind, in fact he wasn’t actually blind but he was suffering from cataracts.  And in fact, he was soon after diagnosed as being legally blind in his right eye.  And apparently, he had only 10% vision in his left eye.  He was encouraged to have an operation or operations on each of his eyes at that point, so that he could see.  But I think quite wisely he decided that he would not, for the reason that there were all sorts of precedents by 1912 of people who’d had cataract operations that were unsuccessful.  What’s interesting about his situation is he resumed painting and began painting on a very ambitious scale by 1914 and made no complaints about his eyesight until about 1920-21 when clearly his eyesight, such as it was at that point, was getting worse.

 

White

In that period that you’ve just talked about is there a difference in the way in which he painted than he had before?

 

King

After 1914, when he resumes painting, after this diagnosis of cataracts two years earlier, is that he has supersized his canvases, he begins working not on canvases that are the size that he’d worked on for decades previously, i.e. three or four feet wide by three or four high or smaller, he begins working on ones for the most part that are over six feet high and that are anything from 12 to 14 to 20 feet wide.  And he’s also using much thicker brushes, brushes with a much greater width…

 

White

Magnification.

 

King

That’s right.

 

White

But did it change the way – you say it magnified it but he does say, doesn’t he, towards the end, in that period you’re talking about where his eyesight was getting very poor, he says – my poor eyesight makes me see everything in a complete fog, it’s very beautiful all the same and I’d love to have been able to convey this.

 

King

That’s right.  Well there is no question that at certain points, especially 1923-24, when he went into a very black depression, understandably, because of his poor eyesight, he was affected by it at that point, and he virtually stopped painting simply because he could not convey it.  The problem seems to have been colour, his problems with colour and also with judging what he painted because he – after his operations, his eye doctor told him, for an ordinary man I have restored the sight but for Claude Monet… who was know through a sad irony at this point as having had the best vision in the history of art… said, for Claude Monet I cannot restore his eyesight.

 

White

Ross King, biographer of Claude Monet.

 

And that’s it for today.  You can call our actionline for 24 hours after tonight’s programme, the number 0800 044 044.  Or you can email intouch@bbc.co.uk or click on contact us on our website.  And that’s where you can also download tonight’s In Touch and other previous editions.  From me, Peter White, producer Lee Kumutat and the team, goodbye.

 

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