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Last Updated: Friday, 11 July, 2003, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Battling to recycle
By Jenny Matthews
BBC News Online

Many UK householders are keen to recycle their waste - but are being hampered by a lack of local schemes.

A bill cleared the Commons on Friday calling for councils in England and Wales to provide every home with doorstep recycling.

However, it does not demand this is done until 2010 and it says only two different materials must be collected.

Tin cans at a recycling centre
Millions of cans end up in landfill sites

In the meantime, families continue to battle a range of barriers which mean that, on average, each household can recycle only 13% of its rubbish.

Most councils' kerbside collection schemes - if they have any at all - are limited.

Many will not collect from local authority housing estates, blocks of flats, or rural areas.

Many collect just paper, or paper and glass.

Less than half currently pick up plastic bottles - let alone any other type of plastics.

The usual excuse for not picking up plastics is that a market cannot be found for it.

Fizzy drink bottles, milk bottles and detergent bottles are easy to recycle
Margarine pots are often made of blended materials and not so easy
Yoghurt pots are often polystyrene which has fewer recycling uses at the moment
Lids should be removed from bottles as they are often a different sort of plastic and could contaminate the batch
Flower pots are often too brittle and too contaminated to recycle
Uses for most recycled carrier bags are very limited because of the printing ink used on them
Source: Recoup

But plastics recycling body Recoup says householders should urge the councils to try harder, because waste reprocessors are crying out for more material.

"There is a huge demand for domestic plastics and no supply," said spokeswoman Niki Audsley.

"It's the second most valuable recyclable packaging material, with over 27m worth of saleable material thrown away each year... recyclers can't get enough of it."

Friends of the Earth agreed, with spokeswoman Claire Wilton saying poor recycling facilities were usually down to a "lack of political will" on the part of the individual council.

The problem with plastics is two-fold for councils:

  • They are light and bulky, so comparatively costly to store and transport, thus digging into the profits from their sale.

  • The reprocessing firms may take a certain sort of plastic only. Yet a vast array of different types of plastic are thrown away, so the council would have to sort it all out at its own expense.
There are also certain types of plastics which are genuinely difficult to recycle.

Shop carrier bags, for example, can generally only be used for low-grade, dark plastics such as bin liners, because of the ink on them.

And the cost of dealing with flimsy or complex plastics such as supermarket salad wrappers or sandwich containers often proves prohibitive.

Daventry recycles 44% of household waste
The average council recycles 13%
Councils in the north-east have a poor record, collecting on average only 6% of household waste for recycling
Most councils are working on improving their recycling services - partly because they are being forced to by government and EU law.

But some have found that, ironically, increasing the amount of rubbish collected for recycling can cause its own problems.

Broadland District Council in Norfolk recently launched a kerbside scheme which collects many types of recyclable waste.


But it can no longer collect glass bottles because, said a spokesman, "they might smash and contaminate all the other rubbish".

44% of household waste recycled
Residents have four separate recycling containers
The scheme costs the council 56 per household
But this saves fines and landfill costs

One council held up as a shining light by green groups is Daventry - which manages to recycle a whopping 44% of household waste.

Households are given a red box (paper and textiles), blue box (cans, glass and some plastics), brown bin (garden waste and cardboard) and a normal bin for all other waste.

The scheme is efficient and popular but, said spokeswoman Sue Reed, comes at "quite a cost" for the council - an estimated 56 per household per year.

"But you have to balance that against the penalties," she added.


"It means we're not going to be fined by the government for not meeting our targets in the future, for instance."

But even Daventry is stumped when it comes to picking up certain materials.

28 million tonnes of household rubbish thrown away each year
An average person throws away 74kg of organic waste each year - the same as 1077 banana skins
The amount of waste paper buried each year would fill enough buses to reach, nose to tail, from London to Milan
Every day 80 million food and drinks cans end up in landfill
Source: Wastewatch

Orange juice cartons, cereal packets and washing-up powder boxes, for instance, contain a mix of paper and plastic which cannot be separated and is, for the moment, utterly unrecyclable.

And what Ms Reed called "ridiculous" environmental legislation has also stymied a scheme to recycle food waste such as egg shells, teabags and vegetable peelings.

The government's Animal By-Products Order, drawn up after the foot-and-mouth crisis, was aimed at stopping the spreading on farmland of catering waste containing meat.

The problem was because its wording was drawn so widely it effectively banned outdoor compost heaps.

Daventry's food scraps now have to be composted at home by those lucky enough to have a garden, or dumped in landfill with other non-recyclable rubbish.

Recycling attitudes 'must change'
11 Jun 03  |  Northern Ireland
Recycling law boosts hi-tech transfer
04 Jun 03  |  Technology
Recycling 'will not be dumped'
04 Apr 03  |  England


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