Walk across Edinburgh and you can feel, right now, as if you are traversing a giant, sprawling landfill site. Every time I stroll past another rubbish pile, I feel as if something is in my face - and it’s not just the need of the bin collectors for more than a 3 per cent pay rise.

This bin strike, with its mountains of binbags and scattered plastic cartons, has been a sobering reminder of something else we don’t like to look at – the extent and nature of our waste. What we don’t see, we don’t care about, and most of the time we live with a system which clears waste away almost quickly enough for us to feel it was never properly there. It was never really quite our problem.

Rather it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind, until we pass a landfill site or see images of piles of textile waste on the beaches of Ghana, or until our bin workers go on strike.

Last week, when my local recycling dumpster was full, I had to bring the bag back to the house and push it into a shed we have on the yard. It’s still sitting there with a bin bag ready for landfill. Both bags seemed like reminders of my own failure, and that of the system, to reduce waste. Questions plagued me. Why had I not been to the refill shop in months? Why hadn’t I got the teenagers in the house better trained to swerve the allure of a plastic bottled drink?

The bin strike has brought home a reminder of just how much unnecessary packaging still comes through all our households. A survey published this year by Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic found that on average each household threw away 66 pieces of plastic packaging in one week, amounting to 3432 a year. The campaigners said this indicated that UK households are throwing away an estimated 1.85 billion pieces a week, or 96.57 billion pieces a year.

What you can see on our streets right now is that much of the rubbish that heads to landfill is mixed, a tangled mess of food waste, packaging and other junk. It’s not exactly well sorted. Scotland, according to a report published last year which looked at 2020 data, has a poor recycling rate, of only 40%, lower than other countries in the UK. Look at these bins and you can’t help but suspect that it hasn’t got very much better.

On one level I understand this. After all, plastic bothers me even when in the right place and spilling out of green-topped recycling dumpsters. That’s because while I’m a diligent recycler and sorter myself, I too question whether recycling it is the answer.

In an article published several months ago in The Atlantic, Judith Enck president of Beyond Plastics, and Jan Dell wrote, “Plastic recycling does not work and will never work.” Their argument was that though some materials recycle well – paper for instance – plastic does not, and the problem “lies not within the concept or the process but with the material itself.” Part of the problem is that we have a multitude of different types of plastics in our packaging, many of which, they wrote, “include different chemical additives and colourants that cannot be recycled together”. But dumping and burning is also problematic – since chemicals and particles released are harmful to human and environmental health.

The best answer to plastic, in other words, is, in many cases, not to use it in the first place. It’s also, by the way, to deal with it ourselves, rather than send it to other countries in order to put it well out of sight. We might like to think that process is a thing of the past, dispensed with since China and Turkey, for instance, refused to take our waste, or since the UK government’s pledge to ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, but a recent ENDS report article revealed that in 2021, the UK sent a staggering 469,406 tonnes of plastic waste abroad.

Meanwhile, what we see on Edinburgh’s rubbish-lined streets isn’t all bad news. Following Scotland’s recent single-use plastics ban, there are some things that are probably less present than they would have been a year ago – plastic forks, plates and stirrers, and polystyrene food containers.

It’s also worth noting progress made. At least the value of a circular economy is now recognised by a Scottish Government bill. At least a deposit-return scheme does seem to be in the pipeline, though delayed. And at least this year saw a UK-wide consultation on how to get producers to pay for the waste impact of their products has resulted in an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system.

But the waste revolution feels like a slow one, often cast aside in favour of weightier matters.

The litter on our streets will be cleared, until the next strike anyway. But let’s take a good look now – and remember, however hard those bin collectors work, they can’t magic our rubbish away entirely.