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Friday, 2 December 2011

Sort it out! Recycling rant

Recycling is OH's responsibility but I sometimes go with Leon to empty out our big bags of sorted junk. Living in a commercial street we can't use the big blue and black boxes like most people do locally, and I have to nag hubby to actually empty the bags before they take over our kitchen.

Leon and I enjoy posting the numerous tins, bottles and paper through the bristles and hearing the resulting clunk or smash. However the last time I took him I noticed there were no glass bins so came home with a clinking bagful. I later realised when passing on the bus that actually, glass should be recycled with the metal and plastic: it's now completely mixed recycling.

This irked me slightly as I'd just re-organised my 'recycling station' in my kitchen, setting it out in labelled boxes- I take care to sort it at home only to be mixed up together again with broken glass, tins and plastics. But I also felt like I was losing power to contribute to the recycling process if it's all mixed up when we've become pros at sorting it all out.

The way co-mingled recycling works is damn impressive though. The basics are illustrated simply in the gripping last scene of Toy Story 3 but in reality single-stream recycling is much more high-tech.
Yes the magnets lift out cans and metals, but then optical scanners separate plastics and the Veolia Magpie machine for example, analyses the plastic materials' molecular structure with an infra-red beam to identify the different types, then separates these off with an air jet blowing them off onto another belt processing a massive 5 tonnes an hour! Glass is sorted by colour scanners. Kewl.

This innovation hugely increases volume processed- an overall winner, PLUS there are massive cost savings in collection and transportation of one type of bin AND more likelihood that more materials will be recycled as the machine can adapt to other materials depending on their make up. Increasing plastic types are now possible to sort which was a major problem leading to overflowing landfills.

So basically we don't really need to sort anymore if our borough offers mixed recycling. Hmm... I still need to post items one-by-one at the big bins though as they have individual holes in them making us trawl through mixed potentially broken glass, tins etc... so actually I should really still sort? [I then saw a guy simply lift the bin lid up and pour in his junk. Now I do the same but feel like a rebel as only one of the 3 bins is unlocked.]

Aside from reduced empowerment, I also feel like it shouldn't come to this massive waste processing system. WTF is happening to the reduction in packaging we've been promised by the retail industry? There should be more conscious efforts to make REUSABLE packaging than recyclable. A place to take your wine and beer bottles at least to be washed and reused rather than enter a long and expensive process of recycling. If supermarkets are playing such a big part in our lives as everyone tells us, they could become a helpful portal closing the loop between customer and producer the other way round- where we give them back their packaging to be used again...

Has my life really become this boring that I'm talking about waste management? Perhaps. I've always been concerned about the issue but reading back I realise it's not the most enthralling topic so apologies, but it riles me. Rant over.


  1. It is an interesting topic, and one that annoys me too. We're lucky in that we have large wheelie-bins - brown for tins/glass, blue for paper/cardboard and grey for general rubbish. My local council are also (apparently) starting a new scheme for recycling food, something to do with manure for local nature/plants etc to improve our environment aesthetically but I've heard nothing about it since the summer so who knows?

  2. I'm also a bit obsessed with recycling. My beef is that the council collects an awful lot of stuff from our doorstep but they don't collect the tetra paks! Every household must have juice cartons and other tetrapak items, yet we have to go to the local refuse site to get rid of them. They build up in our kitchen until we have an amount that is worthwhile to make the trip. Wish they'd just add them to the list of things collected.

  3. @its just me -I'd love a local collection point for organic waste- would stop my bin smelling too! Hope they fulfill their promise- why not contact them and see?

    @i heart motherhood- we're lucky that our council does take tetra paks woohoo! Well done for taking them to the refuse site. A lot of people wouldn't bother. I saw a blogger rinsed, collected, then sent them off in the post but I suppose that's as much hassle? Hope they sort it out soon too!

    @Antonia! Yes my life has become that boring?! Oh no!