In the last nine years I’ve lived under four different Councils: Tower Hamlets, Richmond, Brighton and Hove, and now Lambeth.
And I’m here to tell you that recycling is rubbish. Not to mention scandalous.
By the time I left Tower Hamlets in 2007 (after 21 years) there was no official recycling. So it was a bit of a shock to move to Richmond and find I was legally obliged to separate glass from cardboard, cardboard from paper (Yes! Really), and paper from plastic. No food waste bin, though.
Then I moved to Brighton. There you put your glass in one container, paper, cardboard and plastic bottles – but not shop-bought plastic food packaging – in another. Still no food waste bin.
Now I’m in Lambeth. Here you put glass, paper, cardboard and plastic (but not shop-bought food packaging) in a provided recycling bag. All together. But there is a separate bin for food waste.
Slow boat to China
How is it possible to respect a system that varies so wildly, and in which you can be prosecuted for not following the rules? How it galls to hear radio reports that recycled waste is, ahem, going to waste because of ‘tainting’. Well it’s pretty bloody obvious, isn’t it, that glass will taint paper, and that paper will taint plastic?
Even worse, the whole thing is, by and large, a con in any event.
When the recycling war got under way, the UK was shipping container loads of the stuff to China. China would then – oh, please, no, no, you’re killing me! – put it in landfill.
It didn’t take long for China to figure out that this wasn’t such a great idea. So they started turning our container ships away.
Around the same time, a state of the art recycling plant was planned in Streatham, London. It would burn the recycled waste and convert it to power for local homes. This seemed a bleeding edge concept. But locals were concerned that the burning rubbish would taint the air they breathe. (This from Londoners!). The plans were eventually binned (yes, I know; intentional pun).
And just in case you think we’ve learned any lessons since then, Lancashire County Council is closing a similar project that did, in fact, get off the ground. It’s being closed (‘mothballed’) because it is losing the Council’s money. That’s your money, in fact, if you live in Lancashire.
It’s not easy being green
And just to really depress you, depending on where you live, up to 70% of what you are legally required to sort into separate containers ends up in landfill. And that’s landfill here, in the UK.
Last time anyone looked, at least one-third of local councils weren’t recycling anything. They force their residents to sort through their rubbish, supply them with the requisite containers and then, oh dear Lord, send it straight to landfill. No attempt at doing anything green with it.
I’m not much for Green politics myself. But I am a keen recycler. Mind you, it’s us older folk who care. Very few younger people in my family or of my acquaintance (and they are many and varied) give a toss. I reckon it’s because they know, instinctively, that recycling is just another way of bullying us to no good purpose.