Essex Councillors patrol the streets checking recycling

July 19, 2007 at 10:49 am

In the last decade recycling has gone from being an option to a requirement, and the government has created a number of bodies to regulate and improve recycling methods and services, all of them striving for continual improvements in the percentage of waste that the UK recycles every year. One such body, the Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP) was created in 2000 to develop recycling strategies. A separate branch of WRAP called ROTATE provides free advice for local authorities to manage their recycling services.

WRAP helps local authorities by providing a series of maps highlighting where some areas have succeeded in various schemes more than others. Statistics displaying how many kilograms of waste are produced in that area per year are highlighted. In 2004 the government set the target for local authorities at 30% of all household waste to be either recycled or composted by 2010.

Southend Council in Essex was assessed in 2005/06 and from 71,000 households the total amount of waste was 1200kg. With the Department of Food and Rural Affairs breathing down the necks of all local authorities, Southend’s own councillors may soon be taking to the streets themselves, going door to door, checking up on the bins of their residents.

Southend Council’s cabinet member responsible for public protection and waste disposal Ian Robertson told the Essex Echo that “Councillors should be out and about in the wards, learning the problems residents face…I would hope councillors would then be finding out why people are not bothering to recycle”. Mr Robertson then goes on to stress the importance education plays and suggested that residents might even need Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators or other voluntary workers to visit households in order to answer any questions. Will it be long before our bins are under CCTV surveillance?

Lewisham Council in London introduced smaller wheelie bins, about three quarters of the standard size, in order to encourage recycling. Residents wouldn’t be able to fill them up with waste to the usual amount anymore.

Blaby District Council increased the price of their larger waste bins and the price of additional waste bags in order to sway people into recycling their waste.

Craven District Council launched a pilot scheme in 2005 whereby residents were required to fill a special blue-bag with recyclable paper and then at the end of the month one of the blue-bags would be selected at random and the household chosen would win a cash prize of £50. A similar scheme in York was launched and the Head of Waste Strategy Kirsty Walton said “Persuading people to change their behaviour is a challenge and recycling is no exception…we want to find new ways to encourage these people to get started”.

The award for most original method of all must go to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. They used an approach that pulled at the heart-strings somewhat more, running a series of TV adverts where children dressed as superheroes presented the message “It’s our future, please don’t throw it away”.

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Council tries to deal with free newspaper problem

July 19, 2007 at 10:29 am

As any commuter knows, the number of free newspapers being thrust at you is on the increase. Consequently, so too is the amount of discarded paper flying around the streets. Newspapers account for 25% of street litter with the worst affected areas being Charing Cross and Embankment, Victoria Station, Oxford St and Leicester Square. Almost a million of these free newspapers are distributed to commuters each day, who usually either drop them where they walk or put them straight in the nearest bin.

Since the introduction last summer of London Lite and The London Paper more than 100,000 tonnes of discarded free papers have ended up in landfill, rendered unsuitable for recycling because they are so badly contaminated with other waste. This is costing the Westminster taxpayer £111,000 a year. The council already provides 131 bins for recycling newspapers but will need another 300 to cope with the extra papers. The cost of these new bins plus the extra lorries and staff to do the collections will amount to more than half a million pounds and this is why Westminster Council have decided enough is enough and have given the publishers of the free papers a month to reach a voluntary agreement. If this is not done then the council will reduce the number of distribution points, introduce permits to tackle the problem, or enforce litter pick-up schemes. Unfortunately under the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act the council cannot force the publishers to recycle.

Despite all this negative press, one group of people (apart from the homeless who use the papers as bedding) who would be sad to see their demise are the street vendors of the Evening Standard who supplement their income by distributing the freebies.

The publishers (the Daily Mail & General Trust and News International) are both said to be committed to solving the problem and have offered to meet some of the £500,000 for extra bins and collection. However, it was clear at the meeting on July 9th that Westminster Council’s patience is wearing thin.

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Contaminated recycling ends up in landfill

July 19, 2007 at 10:14 am

Pressure from the government to increase the country’s recycling rate from 27% to 50% seems to be having a negative effect on councils. We as householders may feel that we are doing our bit for the recycling schemes but it is what happens after the material leaves our homes that counts.

Many councils’ schemes are seriously flawed and an alarming number are unable to say where or how the materials are recycled. In some cases their sole concern appears to be getting rid of the stuff. A large part of the problem would seem to be “co-mingled” collections where householders put paper, glass, plastic and cans into the same bag or bin and then councils send it all to be sorted at material recycling facilities. Unfortunately because of a lack of long-term investment, these depots are often under-staffed and overworked leading to cross-contamination of materials.

Although co-mingled collections are a practical solution for some areas, there is obviously a case for separately sorted collections where household space is not an issue. Householders also need to take responsibility for what ends up in their recycling bags or bins. Food waste and soiled nappies are amongst the less desirable items which have found their way into containers of supposedly recyclable material.

People in the industry are reluctant to speak out in case the public lose all confidence in recycling schemes but the situation has become so serious, that they are campaigning for councils to sort the material at the time of collection or to get householders to sort it themselves.

Aylesford Newsprint is a company which recycles paper but according to a report in a recent newspaper they have to send 9000 tons of plastic, glass and metal to landfill sites each year.

Glass manufacturers are also badly hit by contamination of material. Once clear glass has been smashed and mixed with coloured glass it can no longer be used and is either sent to landfill sites or used as road aggregate. If in doubt use the local bottle bank where separate containers are available for differently coloured glass.

Mixed plastics are another problem area. Bottles are fine but some councils are under the misapprehension that items such as margarine tubs and yoghurt pots can also be recycled. This unfortunately is only very rarely the case in the UK and they end up being transported to countries such as India, China and Indonesia which together receive about 10,000,000 tons of our rubbish per year.

This may all make rather depressing reading but it is by no means a reason to give up recycling. Instead, if you are concerned about your council’s recycling scheme you should contact the Recycling Team at your local council and ask some important questions. If you are still not satisfied that all is well, consider lobbying your local councillor to ensure that the system is running properly. Apart from the environmental issues, they are missing out on an excellent commercial opportunity to sell material to companies that are prepared to spend millions a year on properly sorted items.

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Currys launch first in-store WEEE collection

July 12, 2007 at 2:56 pm

The retailer Currys has announced that it will launch the first UK in-store recycling scheme designed to accommodate end-of-life electrical products, on June 28th. This scheme will work in accordance with the Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment (WEEE) directive, which comes into effect a few days after, on July 1st. The scheme is designed to improve upon Currys’ already impressive levels of recycling. The company currently recycles thousands of products every year but they recognise that recycling and disposal tend to coincide with replacement. Indeed, the company takes back over 20,000 tonnes of end-of-life products, and in many cases the base materials are recycled and used to make new products which continue to be sold in the store. To ensure that Currys meets the standards of the new WEEE initiative with its latest scheme, the company has set up a unique network of specialist recycling contractors, who will ensure that the standards are reached and maintained. These contractors will also make sure that the disposal of the collected goods is, above all else, safe and will pose no danger to either the natural environment or the general public.

The scheme is relatively simple. Customers will be able to return without any charge, products (regardless of where they were purchased) directly to any one of the network of 500 Currys stores. Alternatively, if they are having new electrical products delivered to their homes, they can easily arrange to have their equivalent old product being replaced, collected. Significantly, Currys are the only electrical retailer opting for such a customer-friendly interpretation of the WEEE Directive.

The WEEE directive itself was agreed on 13th February 2003 and was set up to ensure that major producers, rebranders and importers of household electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) pay for the responsible disposal and recycling of their goods. Electrical waste is growing at a worrying rate, around three times the rate of general waste. The WEEE regulations when brought into practice on July 1st will encourage more recycling, recovery and reuse, and will stop electrical items reaching landfill and causing excess waste unnecessarily. The WEEE directive will also work at an individual level, encouraging the public to take more direct responsibility for recycling and reuse of electronic goods. Stores such as Currys will help enormously with this initiative and hopefully will lead to more similar take-back schemes being set up by other retailers.

Currys’ steps at helping the environment through recycling are not really surprising. After all, Currys’ parent company DSG International has always been committed to sustainable production of goods. DSG International are also responsible for Dixons, who are calling on suppliers to bring an end to the standby button on all electrical goods, in order to reduce the energy usage of products. Electrical goods can actually use as much energy on stand-by mode as they do when they are operating to their full potential. Around 10% of the average household’s electricity bill is wasted through appliances which are left on when not in use. This not only wastes money but is also harming the environment for no good reason.

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Milk sold in plastic bags? What’s next for reducing our packaging?

July 12, 2007 at 2:29 pm

Plastics are the most notoriously troublesome items of waste to recycle. 100,000 tonnes of plastic have to be dealt with every year in the UK alone, and local authorities struggle with it more than with any other type of waste. It’s expensive and difficult to manage, and for a number of reasons. The volume is much higher than the weight, making transportation very expensive. The plastics are often unusable due to contamination, meaning many have to taken to landfills. There is such a wide-range of different plastics that separation becomes very time consuming, but still a vital part of the process. Overall there is a much less developed market for plastics recycling in the UK than other areas such as paper and glass.

Over half of all UK packaging waste is plastics. It is reported that only 23% of plastics packaging was recycled in 2001 ( The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Environment Minister Elliot Morley and WRAP announced in 2006 a paper knows as the Courtauld Agreement, which all of the major UK supermarkets signed. The agreement put forward plans to drastically reduce plastic waste by 2010. However with the transportation, cleaning, reprocessing and finally creation of a new product, is it worth it and above all is it actually more environmentally friendly?

Waitrose have certainly begun honouring the agreement and in June this year it launched a new initiative to combat their waste: plastic milk pouches. The UK consumes up to 180 million pints of milk per day but only 25% of the plastic bottles are recycled. The trusty milkman and his glass bottles are a thing of the past, and Waitrose felt that something needed to be done to stop the vast amount of plastic waste piling up from milk packaging. The pouches have already proven successful and popular in Canada, parts of South America and in a small area in Wales. BBC News reported that a 90% reduction in landfill volumes occurred after the product was introduced. Waitrose has initially launched the pouches across only 17. The pouches contain 75% less plastic and they fit inside a special jug (priced at £1.99) which is used to hold the pouch each time. The energy used to produce and dispose of the bags is a great deal less than current methods.

There is no doubt that the UK uses far too much packaging. Vegetables are sold on trays and then wrapped in more plastic rather than being loose. Some people have more faith in the product’s hygiene this way, some just can’t be bothered to pick out ripe ones. Whatever the general consensus is, there is no hiding from the feeling that we could all do more. Plastic bag usage has changed a great deal in the last five years and DEFRA have pledged full support of the Bags for Life and Penny Back schemes from the supermarkets. Jane Hills, a dairy-buyer for Waitrose said, “Customers are increasingly looking for environmentally friendly solutions and the new milk packs and jugs will be top of their shopping list. The eco-packs will make a radical difference to the way milk is sold within the UK.”

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Recycling in Germany

July 12, 2007 at 2:24 pm

When it comes to recycling and helping to make the environment more sustainable, many European countries including the UK could learn valuable lessons from Germany. The success of Germany’s recycling efforts is largely due to the fact that all levels of society work together to help reduce waste. Manufacturers need to be as pro-active as individual households in order to have an impact.

Starting with manufacturers, the Green Dot system has been invaluable at cutting down waste. The scheme works by making manufacturers and retailers pay for a “Green Dot” on products. When the amount of packaging is increased, the fee is increased as well. This system has resulted in packaging which includes less paper and metal as well as noticeably thinner glass. This makes the individual’s job easier when it comes to recycling, as there is considerably less waste to be recycled. The drastic impact of this scheme is obvious when it is noted that the Green Dot system has resulted in approximately one million tonnes less garbage than usual, every year. People in Germany are actively encouraged only to purchase goods which use the Green Dot system, since this explicitly shows that the manufacturer is helping in the fight to recycle.

The UK government seems to be doing its best to help individual households recycle, by providing different coloured bins. However, many people find this scheme confusing and unclear at best. Furthermore, a green bin in one area can contain items which are disallowed in other areas. In Germany though, the proper sorting of waste is something which everyone is knowledgeable about. The clearly set out instructions regarding which bin to use are easy to follow, for example the green bin accommodates paper, including all packaging made of paper and cardboard. However, items such as tissues belong in the grey bins along with other personal items such as nappies. All of the content in the grey bin will be incinerated.

A further confusion for many UK households is when to put each bin out in front of the house. This is not a problem in Germany though, where special calendars with garbage collection detail on are available from the local registration office or the community newsletter. Indeed, one of the reasons behind Germany’s success at recycling is precisely this community spirit, with everyone working together to help make the country sustainable.

There are some items, however, which need to be discarded but do not belong in any of the colour coded bins. Such items could include a broken TV or a table or chair which is no longer needed. Some of these items can be taken to the local fleamarket but if this seems inappropriate, the items can be left outside the house. The eventual idea is that these items will end up in the rubbish dump but this is in reality, a rare occurrence. Many second hand dealers drive around to inspect the abandoned items and the majority of it is loaded into private vans long before the authorities have a chance to pick it up for the local dump!

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McDonald’s to run its delivery vans on cooking oil in the United Kingdom

July 12, 2007 at 2:22 pm

The fast food chain McDonalds, more commonly associated with greasy, high- caloric meals than saving the environment, has recently decided to go green. In an attempt to reduce its carbon footprint, the restaurant is to now run its delivery vehicles in the United Kingdom on bio-diesel by using a mixture of cooking oil and rapeseed oil. By the end of next year, McDonalds intends to convert all 155 of its UK delivery lorries to be able to run on bio-fuel. This in turn will reduce the company’s carbon emissions by some 1,650 tonnes per annum. This is equivalent to reducing the number of cars on British streets by two thousand.

McDonald’s decision to go green follows numerous trials conducted by the fast food chain and its distribution partner in the United Kingdom, Keystone Distribution. The trials allowed for over 150,000 litres of used cooking and rapeseed oil to be converted into the bio-fuel EN14214. According to McDonald’s Senior Vice President, Matthew Howe, this is not an isolated initiative on the part of the corporation. Speaking last month, he stated that the restaurant’s green program was “a great example of how businesses can work together to help the environment, and is a natural complement to the work we are doing to our delivery schedules to cut food miles and fuel consumption. We don’t intend to stop here. Our work with the Carbon Trust will help us find more ways, big and small, to reduce our carbon impact across the whole of our business.” As such, the restaurant is also looking into a number of other ways to make its operations environmentally-friendly. In an attempt to engage in greener practices, the company now intends to recycle the vast quantities of packaging material it utilizes each day.

However, there is some concern as to the viability of McDonald’s green vehicles. Whilst bio-diesel is one of the most popular sources of renewable energy, vehicle manufacturers are divided about the effectiveness and reliability of this fuel. Many engine manufacturers in the UK only provide warranties if their engines are run on a maximum of 5% bio-diesel combined with 95% conventional fuel. In addition, whilst there is much debate as to the quality of the fast food chain’s meals, they are no doubt relatively inexpensive. It is feared that the costs of running lorries on bio-diesel will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Nevertheless, the advantages of this program should not be underestimated. Aside from the benefit to the environment, there are likely to be other indirect gains to the co-operation. McDonald’s has received much publicity as a result of its green scheme and such publicity will no doubt help the firm to boost its overall sales. Furthermore, given its standing in the corporate world, it is also hoped that the McDonald’s initiative will encourage other large organizations to pursue environmentally-friendly practices as well.

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Australia pilots intelligent bins

July 12, 2007 at 2:19 pm

Are you sick and tired of public bins, whether they are designed for recycling or general waste, continuously overflowing and spilling their contents onto the street? Don’t you just wish that they could be emptied as soon as they became full? In Australia, this may soon be the case. Brisbane is set to trial ten solar powered “mega-bins”, which sense when they become full and actually ask to be emptied. Once full, the bins (which run on environmentally-friendly solar power) send a message to the local council, who will immediately go and empty them. The bins also have a clever LED indicator which flashes red, amber or green. This light helps to alert council staff about the relative state of the bin’s capacity. Furthermore, they have e-mail and texting capacity and can therefore send a message directly to waste services.

The bins are made from galvanised steel have already been trialled in America. The results from these pilot schemes suggest that the bins play an important role in keeping litter in check and helping with the overall issue of waste reduction. Indeed, the pilot schemes in America have been so successful that more than 300 ‘BigBelly’ bins line the streets from Massachusetts to California today.

The bins are clever in another way too, as they are designed with a ‘BigBelly’ compaction system in place. This system stops litter blowing away from the top of the bin and also prevents scavenging animals from rifling through the waste. This is due to a clever sealed unit at the front of the bin, which also reduces smell. The bins are designed to accommodate much more rubbish than a usual public bin, through compacting the rubbish and stopping it overflowing. This compaction system is powered by the sun, which charges the battery so that once fully charged, the bin can run for thirty days in complete darkness. The bins can reduce waste pick-up by four times or more, which helps the environment in another way as the number of waste truck trips are drastically reduced, cutting down on harmful emissions which reduce air quality. In the New York City borough of Queens, 44 of these unique bins have cut down on waste pickups by 70% since the city deployed their bins only a year ago. The bins are also convenient in that they can be placed anywhere; there is no need for trenching or wiring. They are also user-friendly with a rugged design, making them virtually vandal proof and strong against the elements.

There is yet another clever feature to the bins. Although eight of the ten BigBelly bins being tested will be for general litter, two revolutionary bins will be used for co-mingling recycling purposes. This means that within one recycling bin you can place all kinds of material such as paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and aluminium and steel. These two recycling bins will be the first of their type in Australia and will make the process of recycling a lot more convenient.

Overall, the bins are helping to make recycling, waste reduction and improving air quality a more manageable task, whilst also aiming to educate the public about these issues. Through unique advertising panels on the sides of the bins, people are forced to interact with the bin. Furthermore, everyone, especially young children, can now see a real solar panel at eye level performing an invaluable task for the local community. The benefits of these bins ensure that people are always aware of the environmental issues surrounding them in their everyday lives.

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Give and Take days in your local area

July 12, 2007 at 2:38 am

According to Waste Not Want Not, Government Strategy Unit Report, November 2002, each household in London alone produces over a tonne of waste per year and nearly 80% of municipal waste in England is sent to landfill sites, comparing poorly with the rest of Western Europe. Many people dislike throwing away unwanted items but are unsure how to recycle. There are many schemes available to help, some of the most popular being schemes such as Freecycle. The only downside is that these schemes rely upon people being comfortable with using the internet. Whilst recycling via the internet has obvious advantages, not everyone has a computer at home.

For those who do not have internet access, Give and Take days seem to be the best alternative. This idea originated in Germany where a certain day each month is designated for the collection of unwanted furniture. Unwanted items are placed outside and anyone can take what they want. The idea of a Give and Take day is simple: a space such as a hall is hired for a day and people are encouraged to bring along items which they no longer need (apart from clothes which can of course always be taken to a local charity shop) and anyone can turn up and pick up items which they do need, free of charge. Any leftover items will usually be given to local charities. You can find anything you need here, from tables to televisions, and the organisers can even arrange transport for heavy items. Give and Take days not only provide a unique opportunity to cut down drastically on waste but can also be a fun day out for the whole family.

Richmond upon Thames council provides one example of just how successful these days can be. They started Give and Take days in September 2006 and on one day alone, attracted 500 people and nearly 4000 items. Overall, just under 8 tonnes of waste was diverted from landfill. Furthermore, some councils use the day to educate the public about wider issues of waste minimisation and recycling. Give and Take days in Wandsworth provide free information about sustainable living and especially target young children in an accessible and fun way.

The Women’s Environmental Network provides a ‘toolkit’ for organising Give and Take days, which is free to download from the internet. It provides everything you need, from information concerning budgets to flyers.

Many councils, particularly in London, offer this service, including:

  • Richmond upon Thames
  • Waltham Forest
  • Bexley
  • Southwark
  • Hounslow
  • Ealing
  • Camden
  • Islington
  • Enfield

If you would like to find out whether your council offers Give and Take days, you should contact the Waste and Recycling officer (sometimes called the Community Recycling officer) at your local council offices. If they don’t and you are interested in lobbying them to do so, you should contact your <a href=" local councillor and ask them to use their influence in instigating the scheme. Alternatively, there may be a council recycling committee which may be able to help.

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Targets for battery recycling now in reach

July 5, 2007 at 9:01 pm

Goals set concerning the number of batteries recycled each year now appear to be in reach. According to the Waste Resources Action Program (WRAP), targets set by the Battery Directive are likely to be attained by 2012 as was initially hoped. Nevertheless, a number of obstacles remain which may prevent these goals from being achieved in full.

So far, large numbers of batteries have been recycled in the United Kingdom. To date, WRAP has collected over 1.75 million batteries. Collection of used cells takes place in a number of ways. Deposit points are now available at the premises of most major retailers such as Argos, Tescos and Currys. Curbside collection facilities remain ever popular. However, a number of new schemes are currently being trialled. In May, WRAP together with the Royal Mail, launched a ‘collection by post’ initiative in two districts in Cumbria and Dumfries & Galloway. These services allow local residents to mail a variety of batteries, ranging from AAA to D, to recycling contractors. Specialized packaging is available to those who wish to take advantage of the scheme. This is essential for the safe transport of used and damaged batteries. If all goes to plan, this trial is expected to continue until 2008. The Waste Resources Action Program is confident that increasing the availability of collection facilities and the ease of disposal will encourage more people to recycle batteries.

However, despite this apparent success, much more needs to be done. Firstly, the collection and sorting of batteries can be a difficult and time-consuming process. Secondly, there is the ever-present problem of government red tape. Certain types of batteries are classified as ‘hazardous’ waste and must therefore be dealt with according to guidelines set out under national Hazardous Waste Regulations. Other types of batteries are classified as ‘dangerous.’ As a consequence, transportation and disposal of such cells is subject to the government’s Carriage and Dangerous Goods Regulations. This makes uniform collection schemes difficult. Paradoxically a number of obstacles to the recycling of batteries have arisen as a result of the new Waste Electrical and Electronic Directive (WEEE). In particular the WEEE directive is likely to affect the manner by which internal batteries in electronic goods are handled. Attracting investment to the sector is also essential. Despite growing awareness of the problems facing the environment, investment is limited, with the majority of recycling projects currently being funded by the government. Nevertheless, there are a number of signs to suggest that this situation may soon change. For example, G&P Batteries is presently developing a recycling plant for lithium ion and manganate batteries – the first of its kind in the UK.

Batteries contain many chemicals harmful to the environment. Some cells contain toxic heavy metals, whilst others release harmful chemicals such as mercury when left to disintegrate in landfills. It is therefore vital that they are recycled whenever possible. For further information on battery recycling or for tips on how you can do your bit to help the environment, click here.

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