Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Tuesday, 10 July 2007 17:20 UK

Recycling in paradise

Great Bay, St Martins in the Isles of Scilly
No room for rubbish here...

By Marie Jackson
BBC News

The Isles of Scilly appear to be the stuff of dreams - white sands, exotic wildlife, year-round warm weather and a peace that comes only with being so remote.

To the 2,000 who live there, and many of its visitors, it is the closest thing on earth to paradise.

But with 30 miles of Atlantic Ocean between them and the nearest mainland, it does come with its own unique set of challenges. And one of these is getting rid of rubbish.

Until two years ago, very little on the islands was recycled.

Orange flower, picture by Bob Berry
Scilly is home to rare plants not seen on the UK's mainland

With no room for a landfill site on Scilly's 16 sq km of land, most islanders dumped rubbish straight into an incinerator on St Mary's, the largest of five inhabited islands.

But there was also the small matter of the 120,000 tourists who visit Scilly each year, bringing with them a much-needed income but also a great deal of waste.

When the council began to look for new ways to tackle the issue, they found they were facing one obstacle after another - and the toughest was cost.

With only 2,000 council tax payers, money can be tight.

Combined with the remoteness, this creates what Neville Gardner, in charge of recycling on the islands, calls the "multiplication factor".

"We are about to ship out 300 domestic fridges for recycling, which costs us 7,600," he said.

Isles of Scilly map

This includes putting the fridges in pallets, shipping them to Penzance in Cornwall, then taking them to a recycling collection centre by lorry.

On the mainland, disposing of the same number of fridges would cost a third of what Scilly pays.

The only solution therefore is to do more to reuse, recycle and reduce within Scilly.

Scilly Council sought the help of waste consultants Rezolve Kernow and the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

In 2005, with 250,000 in funding from the government and the AONB association, they could afford a big recycling push.

Bags and bins

Since then, every household has been supplied with some sort of home compost system, either the "Green Johanna" hot composter, or a green cone digester.

They all have a reusable shopping bag and can drop off unwanted clothes at the Salvation Army's clothing bank.

One of the larger hotels is now able to crush its own wine bottles and beer bottles, the product of which can then be used in local building projects, so saving on shipping costs and the price of transporting materials.

Compost bin and reusable shopping bag
Islanders were given a hand with compost bins and reusable bags

Tourists can chuck their empty drinks cans in six bins dotted around the islands.

The return on aluminium is enough to pay for the high costs of shipping it over to the mainland, with a little left over.

As well as new facilities, there has also been an awareness campaign including workshops and literature for the locals, and attempts to get the message through to visitors.

Tourists travelling by air or sea on the SkyBus are handed boarding passes bearing an environmental message.

Toby Tobin-Dougan, who runs a bakery on St Martin's island, is one resident doing more than most mainlanders to recycle.

He composts in green cone digesters supplied by the council, and takes all cans and bottles to a collection point to be shipped over to St Mary's.

Plans are afoot to introduce compostable coffee cups for his customers, and his 100 ducks and chickens take care of a lot of scraps.

And, as the new owner of the Seven Stones pub, he is taking composting a step further by installing his own 12ft in-vessel composting system - an enclosed system designed specifically to compost food waste.

The concept of polluting paradise is much easier to understand if you are living in paradise
Neville Gardner, council officer

Islanders' commitment to recycling, he believes, is a consequence of the environment.

"Scilly is better than paradise. It's a beautiful place. You just don't see litter or fag ends. No one who lives here would dream of throwing anything on the ground."

The council's Mr Gardner agrees: "The concept of polluting paradise is much easier to understand if you are living in paradise.

"The mindset is to conserve and to reuse and recycle. And we are good at it."

Significant progress

So has all this been worth it?

If you look purely at government statistics, no. The most recent figures appear to suggest the Isles of Scilly recycled and composted absolutely nothing in 2005/6.

Sailing near St Agnes, picture by Bob Berry
It's a beautiful place - no-one who lives here would dream of throwing anything on the ground
Toby Tobin-Dougan, baker
But, says Defra, that is because Scilly does not report its figures to the Audit Commission.

The true picture is a very different one, says Martyn Thomas, a consultant for Rezolve.

"Scilly has not had the money or the knowledge before. But I would say there's 30% recycling over there now," he said.

"By weight, they are hitting well above their weight."

Judges at the 2006 National Recycling Awards agreed, recognising Scilly as runner-up in the community projects category.

Newspapers and other paper are still getting thrown into the 1978 incinerator, as it is needed to make the right mix for burning, but the progress made with glass, plastics, aluminium and steel has been significant.

A selection of your comments.

Common folks' common sense for sustainability for our blue marble of a world ! I'd love to spend my sunset years in your paradise!
Andy Samson, Torrance, CA ,USA

To add some balance to this article it's worth pointing out that there are environmental challenges which Scillonians are very much struggling to manage; particularly one of transport.

We have a relatively large number of vehicles on the islands, and we make mostly very short journeys of between one and two miles. Persuading us islanders to change these habits for "greener" options (walking or cycling) would, in my opinion, be a much tougher challenge than implementing the currently-fashionable reduce/reuse/recycle motif.
Jeremy, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly

This is a most uplifting example of what can be accomplished with a bit of persistence and ingenuity. The USA could certainly be a leader in recycling, if they would come off their high horse of profit and realize there is profit to be made in recycling as well as creating cost effective ways for recycling. Kudos to the Isles of Scilly.
Sydney Brainard, Amarillo, Texas USA

I want to move there... x

This kind of waste management only works on small Islands because they make money off of tourism and the idea of being paradise. In places with no tourism or where industry is the main form of income this kind of thing would never work. The article's most important point is that the major driver of this activity is that it is cost effective.
William, Ponce, Puerto Rico

I do as much as I can to recycle my waste, but until the gov, gets off its 'charge them & they will change' policy. Not much will change, if you wish people to change you need to make it worth their effort. Make waste recycling pay, not in bill reductions but in income.

For a house of four if they recycle 20% of the waste per person then give them 10% of their council tax back at the end of the year. Up to 30% for 60% recycled. Introduce a recycle points card so when you take your grass cutting to the dump you recycle it which goes to their recycling percentage.
Tony Dixon, Northampton

There is a similar project under way in the Galapagos Islands, another small archipelago with a limited population and an even greater environmental sensitivity. Maybe the local council on the Scillys should have a look at projects they are currently running - - and see if they can implement similar recycling methods.
Tim Fearn, London, UK

The residents of Scilly should be heartily congratulated for achieving that which the mainland has resolutely concluded impossible. Good attitudes and creative problem solving are needed everywhere but are fought against by ordinary people and governments all too often. We should emulate success where we find it.
Nick Sharp-Rees, Maidenhead

This is what happens when you have to take personal responsibility for your rubbish on such a local basis. Most of our rubbish is taken to large central processing centres and the non-recyclables are dumped in huge landfill sites well away from the majority of the homes producing it. If we were forced to live with the consequences of rubbish I'm sure recycling and composting rates would soar.
Andy Herrington, Wargrave, Berkshire

I live in paradise but many here do not seem to appreciate it and litter out of habit; I feel this is due to a lack of education. I am committed to the cause but don't know where to start. Is there an international organisation that can give me direction?
Max Mulligan, Holetown, Barbados

I would welcome any help for Barbados - for an all-year round holiday destination it is way behind most places. I've lived here for five years and do my bit to keep my area of paradise litter free and recycle as much as I can.

I'm using aluminium tins to support the concrete on my drive at the moment instead of them going to the landfill. If Max Mulligan would like to contact me by phone I'm sure we could collaborate on this matter! Well done Scilly Islands!
Sue Barker, St Joseph, Barbados, West Indies

For Max Mulligan and others looking for more info on becoming "greener": Try and
Maxine Grossman, Montreal, Canada

The Scilly Isles should look at recycling the plastic milk containers that they get, collecting them at shops, baling them and shipping them back for recycling on the mainland. Their high scrap value would probably pay for the cost of doing so. But, well done so far. This effort is far better than what is currently happening on the Isle of Man.
Richard Crowhurst, Ramsey, Isle of Man

My hat is off to the Scilly Isles - they do understand what recycling is all about - not just ticking boxes to satisfy government bureaucracy.
Venk Shenoi, Blaisdon, Gloucestershire

The mainland in microcosm and an example of what we should all be doing!
Jacqui Rogers, Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Three hundred domestic fridges for shipment to the mainland. Drinks cans to be collected, crushed and sent to the mainland. I guess that these items were not made on the islands. However, the end users must have met the cost to get these items to the islands. Now the council are worried that the locals/tourists wont pay for their return journey for their unwanted items.

When I visit a remote area of beauty and take a picnic, I don't have to think twice about taking my rubbish away with me. I don't squeal that its too difficult to take my waste away. On several occasions I have read about the issues of explorers in the Himalayas leaving their rubbish behind. This is generally considered as an unacceptable practise.

Well done for the effort to start of reducing, reusing and recycling. The country as a whole should have started taking on these initiatives at least 10 years ago like the rest of Europe. We must wake up to the fact we pay for the distribution of consumer items in their sale prices. Someone must pay for their disposal/recycling.
Scott Barnett, Portsmouth, Hampshire

"It's a beautiful place - no-one who lives here would dream of throwing anything on the ground". That's great. If only people on the mainland were more like that. I was standing at a bus stop at the weekend and a man tore open a chocolate bar and just threw the wrapper on the ground. He was standing right next to a bin. I picked it up and put it in the bin and he looked at me as if I had two heads.
Karen, Armadale, Scotland

I was one of a group that set up a recycling project in the mid-1980s in Devon. However we now have just nine years left to get to the Scilly's standard of reduce re-use and recycle, because after that we have no landfill sites left! This is a national problem that must be tackled now!

I think most people think they are 'doing their bit' when they recycle some of their household waste like bottles, plastics and tins and so they just go out and consume more as a result. We all need to reduce our consumption in the first place and to simply not buy things that are over-packaged. Unfortunately, it's an uphill battle to get people to change their all-consuming habits.
Earl Bramley-Howard, Barnstaple, UK

Let's hope the rest of the UK can learn something from these islands and start better recycling. The restaurant recycling compost is a great idea and should be adopted by all restaurants and pubs.
Amelia Stoker, Letchworth Garden City, England

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