Reminiscing About Recycling

confusion about recycling

As I filled up my blue Westminster Council recycling bag the other day, I thought back to the days when I was but a child and recycling was a whole different ball game to what it is today.

Back then I remember my family having to go to the recycling centre up the road, the one in the town centre car park or the one down the tip if we wanted to recycle our bottles, cans, paper and plastics.

Nowadays, of course, things are a whole lot easier and householders simply have to remember to put the right bin/bag out on the right day to do their bit to save the planet. Or is it that simple?

Frustrations Abound

One of my pet peeves is the lack of clarity from both councils and manufactures when it comes to what can be recycled, where it can be recycled and whether items need to be washed or separated for them to be accepted.

For example, my experiment with cow’s milk alternatives has posed the problem of disposing of Tetrapaks and the Westminster page showing what I can recycle (that I have printed out and stuck on the wall in my recycling cupboard) does not mention them. It needed me to go online and find out whether my council would recycle them – it turns out that they don’t apart from at a few recycling centres a couple of miles away.

The weird thing is that if you look at the Tetrapak recycling site, you’ll see that in London, most of the boroughs do offer kerbside collection of these cartons and this includes every single borough that borders Westminster.

UPDATE: Whether this post helped at all or not, as of March I can now recycle my cartons and Tetrapaks in my own Westminster recycling bag – so a small victory at least!

This brings me to the fact that household recycling is so varied across the country. I have to wonder why Westminster doesn’t accept these cartons that are so commonly used for fruit juices and other drinks when all their neighbours do – it seems very odd to me.

Why can’t recycling be more homogeneous so that wherever you go in the country, the same rules apply to what you can and can’t recycle?

GreenSteve Tip: Badger your local council by phone or email if you are unsure what materials can and can’t be recycled – with any luck they will then amend their websites and/or printed media to reflect your question to the benefit of all residents.

Clear Labelling

It seems to me that more items can be recycled now then when I was growing up, but this does not always mean that these materials are clearly labelled as such. This makes it difficult for households to effectively recycle to their fullest.

In fact, there are 2 distinct possibilities in these situations – either they choose not to put recyclable materials in their recycling just in case which means less of what can be recycled is being recycled, or people end up putting non-recyclable materials out for collection thinking that they are doing the right thing which can lead to problems with the quality of recycled material after processing.

Either way, clearer labelling of materials will help the right waste enter the right waste streams and end the confusion that sometimes surrounds recycling in the home.

Just as a side note, this labelling has to be extended to all aspects of the packaging – for instance, I had no idea whether the plastic caps on milk bottles or water bottles are recyclable and if they are, should they be left on the bottle or put in separately?

Ok so it only took a few Google searches to find that they were recyclable but will busy householders do the same search? Also, different councils apparently have different policies on whether the tops should be on or off the bottle when it is put into the recycling. There is a lack of clear information out there in my opinion.

GreenSteve Tip: If a product is not clearly labelled with recycling information, contact the company that makes it and ask them what materials their packaging is made out of. They should also be able to tell you whether it is widely recycled or not.

Help! My Recycling Bin Isn’t Big Enough

So I might not be talking about my personal situation (after all I am a one person household with weekly recycling collections) but in parts of the country where recycling only happens fortnightly or even monthly, people often find recycling containers are just not big enough to cope.

I remember recycling cardboard when I used to live with my parents and the small box we were provided with would fill up very quickly and soon enough the lid wouldn’t fit (our solution was a big rock to put on the lid to stop it and the card from blowing away).

But the fact remains that we give people huge wheelie bins for the waste that goes to landfill and yet we fail to adequately provide for the increasing quantity of recyclable material that is generated.

While it is very often the case that additional containers can be requested from your local council, just how many people know that this is an option? I don’t think councils are doing enough to tell people about their rights to more capacity.

GreenSteve Tip: Call or email your local council recycling department should you require additional containers to store all the materials you have collected.

What do you find most frustrating about recycling in your area? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


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