Recycling gets risqué

August 30, 2007 at 11:46 am

Online retailer,, which describes itself as the largest UK “adult” toys shop, is now offering a different sort of “feel good factor.” Customers are being urged to go green between the sheets, thanks to a collection system for their old, unwanted products. The eco-friendly Rabbit Amnesty, a reference to the best-selling Jessica Rabbit love toy, allows customers to send outdated or broken adult toys to for recycling. To encourage customers, is also offering a 50% discount on purchases of new vibrators to replace the worn out model being returned.

Despite the introduction of the WEEE Directive earlier this year, which makes producers and consumers more responsible for recycling, many remain unaware of their obligations. Currently, most “adult” toys are thrown in the bin – many consumers being too embarrassed to take them to a recycling centre! Lack of awareness is also a problem. Collection schemes are often complicated, so consumers just aren’t aware that some products, including adult toys, can be recycled. However, with the ever-increasing popularity of sex toys in the UK, the volume of waste being produced is a real concern:

Bonny Hall, head buyer at, says:

“Although some people might think it’s strange to recycle sex toys, rabbit sales are growing every year and we don’t want old ones dumped in landfill sites across the country.”

As well as recyclable plastic and metal, many sex toys incorporate electrical circuits, which may contain heavy metals like lead, chromium, cadmium and mercury. Dumping these hazardous substances in landfill damages the environment, and is therefore far from ideal.

And if hassle-free recycling of your old “rabbit” isn’t incentive enough, is going one step further by donating £1 to the World Land Trust (WLT) for each vibrator salvaged by the scheme. The WLT, with David Attenborough as patron, is a conservation charity which saves acres of rainforest from destruction every year.

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Pay as you throw proposals

August 28, 2007 at 2:18 pm

With Britain being one of the worst countries in Europe for recycling, proposals have been put forward by local authorities for three schemes which would aim to increase our recycling rate and decrease our council tax bills.

Microchipped wheelie bins
Our rubbish would be identified by a microchip fitted to the bin and the weight of the rubbish ascertained by a machine on the dustcart enabling us to be charged according to the amount of waste generated. This would cost the average family around £10 a month.

Unchipped wheelie bins
In areas where bins are not microchipped, we would be able to choose the size of bin required with an 80 litre bin costing £85 per year and a 240 litre one costing £130 per year.

Pre-paid sacks
In areas where wheelie bins are impractical, we would have to buy pre-paid rubbish sacks costing about 60p for a 50 litre sack.

Reaction to these proposals
It is estimated by local authorities that these measures would result in a reduction of £30 a year in council tax. This may not seem much but, of the 1028 people polled by the Local Government Association, 64% of us were in favour of measures being introduced to reward those who recycle most and penalise those who don’t.

The Conservatives are highly sceptical, warning that the schemes would be far too hard to administer efficiently, would not result in lower council tax and would end up making people far more likely to fly-tip or burn their rubbish. In Ireland, where such schemes exist already, the unscrupulous have been ingenious in avoiding paying. So long as there is nothing in their rubbish to identify them, they think nothing of dumping it on the street or in skips, infuriating the law abiding majority of Irish citizens. With this in mind, who knows what the future has in store for these proposals?

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UK food recycling program taking shape

August 17, 2007 at 11:05 am

A number of Welsh county councils have begun food recycling programs. Rhondda Cynon Taf county borough council in South Wales is encouraging residents to recycle waste food by disposing of it in designated collection bins which have been provided by the local government.

Authorities were motivated to undertake this initiative following a successful pilot program at a local primary school. Food recycling programs have already been introduced elsewhere in Wales, namely in Llwydcoed in the Cynon Valley and Trealaw in the Rhondda region. Indeed, Rhondda council is currently leading the way when it comes to recycling in Wales, collecting nearly 600 tonnes of recyclable waste during the second week of July.

The food recycling scheme is to operate as follows. Residents can choose between two different types of collection bins. The first has a caddy design and can hold up to 10 cubic litres of garbage. Alternatively, homeowners can leave waste for collection in a 55 litre outdoor bin. Under the scheme, local authorities are able to collect almost any type of kitchen waste, from food wrappings and kitchen towels to teabags, bones and potato skins. Food waste is to be gathered separately from other commonly recyclable materials. This waste will then be converted into compost by a reprocessing firm in Gelligaer.

Food recycling programs have taken off in other parts of the United Kingdom as well. The London borough of Richmond has taken a number of steps to collect food waste for composting. London authorities also advise residents to compost refuse themselves. Residents are encouraged to create their own compost bins. Instructions on how to make one are available from the Richmond borough website.

A number of councils have also encouraged local schools to set up their own food recycling schemes. If you too would like to do so, then councils suggest that you stick to the following set of guidelines.

  • First, calculate how many scrap bins you will require. Where will you place these bins? Ideally, they should be positioned in an area that is frequented by many people.
  • Order the appropriate compostable bin liners. A number of borough councils provide these free of charge.
  • Collect scraps/food waste and deposit such refuse in the designated bins. These bins should be lined with the aforementioned bin liners. On the collection day, tie up the rubbish bags and ensure that the bin or skip is at the food waste collection point by 7 am.
  • Publicity is key. Inform staff, students and/or local residents about the program.

By following these simple steps, your community can do its bit to protect the environment.

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British towns struggle to keep up with recycling following floods

August 14, 2007 at 12:34 pm

Reports suggest that a number of British towns hit badly by the recent floods are finding it difficult to maintain recycling rates. With many water-purification plants damaged by the flood waters, local councils were compelled to step in and provide stranded residents with bottled water. Government analysts have suggested that some 40 million plastic bottles were distributed across the affected areas.
In Tewkesbury, one of the towns worst damaged by flooding, authorities were, until recently, distributing bottled water at a rate of 100,000 bottles each day.

Now, as people attempt to clear up the waste left behind by the floods, most have sought to recycle the plastic bottles. However, local collection facilities are unable to cope with the influx of waste, having suffered damage to their infrastructure during the floods. This situation has hit recycling services in Gloucester and Tewkesbury particularly badly. Local authorities have taken a number of steps to alleviate the current situation. The collection firm, Recresco has set up 40 additional collection banks across other parts of the county.

By consequence, authorities estimate that bottles are now entering collection banks at an average rate of 3 million per day. Eric Gent, county director for the recycling firm, has highlighted the important role played by his organization in the post-flood recycling programs: “Staff got into the spirit and (we are) out (collecting) until 11 at night and then back again in the morning… It’s a good sign that even in a crisis so many tonnes (of plastic) were saved from landfill.”

Indeed, almost 8 tonnes of recyclable plastic have been collected from flood-hit parts of the county alone. High pressure vacuums compress the plastic bottles, allowing Recresco lorries to carry almost five times as many bottles compared to those used by other collection agencies. Final reprocessing of waste plastic is then undertaken by J & A Young Ltd. in Leicestershire.

Gloucester city council has praised the efforts of local residents who have remained environmentally conscious despite the disaster. The Environmental Agency has urged flood-hit residents to take the following steps to help local recycling authorities:

  • Members of the public are advised to flatten cylindrical bottles. This allows for more bottles to be squeezed into a single collection bin.
  • Households should store used bottles at home for as long as possible. Once collection services are up and running again, these bottles can be deposited in the designated collection areas.

If you have plastic bottles left over from the floods and would like to have them recycled, you can find your nearest collection facility by using the Recresco collection bank locator.

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Reading Festival goes green

August 8, 2007 at 10:47 am

The last thing on people’s minds when attending a music festival is their waste. However, the annual UK music extravaganza that is Reading Festival is planning on bucking the trend by helping out the environment this year. ‘Green’ is very much on the agenda, with organisers Mean Fiddler putting together a sensible and thorough strategy plan to help its visitors do their bit for the environment. Here are some of the plans:

  • A green bag will be issued on arrival for empty bottles, a clear one for cans and a black one for all other rubbish. The reward for the returning of a filled up bag will be a beer.
  • A returned plastic beer cup will mean a 10p reward.
  • Recycle bins will be located all over the site for all materials.
  • Returned gas canisters and aerosols could win lucky people tickets to the festivals in 2008 if their raffle ticket wins.
  • Charity Global Hand will ask for any unwanted tents, sleeping bags or sleeping mats after the weekend for the homeless.
  • The Lift Share website, which encouarages people to find others to travel with to reduce the traffic pollution, is helping to provide transport to the festival.
  • Coaches are to be put on especially for the festival from National Express.
  • Eco-friendly shower gel will be distributed free of charge, which is less harmful to the land after its use. There are free showers onsite too.
  • Eco-friendly recycled toilet paper will also be handed out free.

Many other tips for helping the environment whilst at Reading are on their website but the question is, how green can a festival ever really be? A specially designed ‘green only’ festival was put on in Scotland, near Aviemore, in June 2007, where there were similar ideas like car sharing, free trade, and organic food in biodegradable packaging, but it failed to make many headlines for its initiatives. Moreover, both Latitude Festival in Suffolk and T in the Park in Scotland took a simlarly green approach this year. The latter claimed to be carbon neutral and its carbon footprint was offset to forestry in Scotland and Southern and Central America.There are currently over a 150 music festivals each year in the UK and, in 2003, a website called was launched to grade them all. The most ‘green’ of all was the Sunrise Summer Solstice Celebration held at the end of May each year near Yeovil. It won the Shelter Award for Most Socially Responsible Festival in the UK and plans to be totally carbon neutral by 2008. According to its website, in 2007 the entire festival was run on renewable energy such as biodiesel, solar, wind and pedal power. It is leading the way in recycling programs, uses compost toilets, all organic food, and it is planting trees to offset the carbon. Although this may sound extreme now, with major festivals like Reading making similarly bold moves, this may well be the future.

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Scotland lagging behind on recycling

August 7, 2007 at 6:38 am

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), has recently published figures on the country’s household and business waste in 2005/06. The data shows that the volume of waste in Scotland has risen substantially – by 10% compared with the previous year. This surge in waste production is linked to a recent building boom. Construction material accounts for the lion’s share of the 22.2 million tonnes of waste, with building and demolition contributing 10.6 million tonnes to the total, compared with only 7.3 million tonnes in the previous year.

Household waste amounted to 2.89 million tonnes, of which 24.4% was recycled or composted. Given that the Scottish Executive’s recycling target was 25% by the end of 2006, this seems a sign of healthy progress. However, of the 893,000 tonnes of waste collected by local authorities which was destined for recycling or composting, almost a third (32.2%) was composted, not recycled. According to the report, it is likely that householders are making greater use of local authority composting and garden waste collection services, whereas previously this organic matter would have been composted at home. So the increased volume of waste being recycled or composted is due at least in part to an uptake of composting facilities rather than a greater commitment to recycling.

On average, a Scottish household threw away 1,197kg of rubbish in 2005/2006, up 26kg from 2004/2005. Over 72% of this waste ended up in landfill sites, and 207kg per household was recycled. This equates, on average, to a recycling rate of 17.2%, compared with an average across England of 27%. A breakdown of recycling in the English regions, published by Defra, shows 4 English regions are recycling a third of their household waste. The South West, with a rate of 33%, recycles almost twice as much as Scotland.

But the outlook isn’t entirely bleak for the UK’s northernmost country. The deleterious effect of Scotland’s construction industry on their waste profile is matched by a positive attitude towards recycling at a broader level. Indeed, a country-wide campaign known as Waste Aware Scotland, is helping to educate the public about recycling by introducing the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and launching more than 80 local Waste Aware programmes. Moreover, the DEPA report does show that the increase in materials collected for recycling corresponds to a decrease in household waste, suggesting that the message is slowly getting through.

However, Bill Proctor, who works at SEPA’s Environmental Data Unit, admits there is still work to be done: “Although we are seeing a significant drop in the amount of waste being sent to landfill, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure…targets are met. Much of the progress to date is being achieved through the implementation and delivery of Scotland’s National Waste Plan”. Therefore, while Scotland’s attitude to education on recycling shows promise, there is still much work to be done in the future.

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Plans to recycle polystyrene in the pipeline

August 6, 2007 at 11:23 am

Each year British landfills receive almost three thousand tonnes of waste polystyrene. In an attempt to deal with the problem, Purex International is embarking on a project to develop machines which can “thermally densify” polystyrene. The new technology, known as Styromelt™, will allow waste polystyrene, otherwise destined for landfills, to be converted into a form that can be used to produce fuels and other materials.

Polystyrene (or expanded polystyrene (EPS) as it is technically known) is manufactured from liquid hydrocarbons commonly in the chemical industry. This material has a number of uses. Polystyrene has gained popularity as a packing material due to its physical properties; it is light, yet highly impact resistant. In addition, fast-food restaurants often use polystyrene containers to package food as the material also provides good insulation when it comes to keeping food warm.

However, polystyrene does not decompose easily and it is therefore harmful to the environment. Whilst a number of cities in the United States have banned the use of polystyrene, little has been done to combat the problem in the UK. Few companies are interested in recycling the waste polystyrene they generate because of the substantial costs involved. In most cases, waste EPS eventually makes its way to landfills across the country. In addition, because polystyrene has a very low density, its volume is significantly greater than its weight – the 300,000 tonnes of waste polystyrene created in the UK in a year would fill up to 15,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Until now, polystyrene has not been recycled widely, as many manufacturers remain unaware about the facilities available. The Styromelt™ machine, according to its manufacturers, provides an efficient way of dealing with waste polystyrene: “The machine has a loading area of approximately two cubic metres, which is filled with EPS, the door is then closed and locked and the machine switched on. Two temperature controlled thermal plates then heat the EPS to melting point where it releases all the air and other gases it contains forming a thick liquid, which is collected in a tray where it cools. Once cool, the now solidified block is removed from the tray and stored for recycling.” The process, once complete, reduces the waste polystyrene to 95% of its original volume. The compressed polystyrene can now be transformed into a whole variety of products, ranging from coat hangers and CD cases to picture frames and disposable cameras. It can also be used to produce environmentally-friendly fuel such as green diesel and LPG. Compressed polystyrene can also be burnt. This process releases a considerable amount of energy – almost twice as much as an equal volume of coal.

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Recycling in Camden – a load of rubbish?

August 2, 2007 at 11:41 am

Camden Council seems to be taking green issues seriously. A comprehensive recycling programme which includes street and doorstep collections and recycling centres has encouraged a large proportion of residents to recycle their waste. But is Camden achieving what it has set out to do – to reduce damage to the environment by saving energy and water? The Council’s Sustainability Task Force thinks not. The task force, which includes representatives from all the political parties on the Council, believes current recycling initiatives are falling short of the ideal.

At present recyclate (recyclable material) is not sorted by householders, who can place paper, glass, cans, cardboard and plastic bottles in a “green box” which is collected weekly. It is this co-mingled waste which is causing concern. Alexis Rowell, the Liberal Democrat councillor who heads up the task force is “not convinced that what we are doing is the most environmentally friendly option,” adding “they brought in co-mingling to increase the tonnage, which we should not compromise, but is that the best way to recycle?” Another member, Maya de Souza, believes the laborious collection and sorting process could be using more energy than is being saved. A Green Party councillor as well as a member of campaign groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, she says “we need to be confident we are doing the right thing.”

Co-mingling of waste is a popular strategy with local authorities keen to increase the volume of waste destined for recycling, and to reduce the cost of hefty taxes by diverting rubbish from landfill, but increased tonnage comes at a price – a reduction in the quality of recyclate. Contaminated recyclate can even end up going to landfill after all – which makes the sorting and collection of material a huge waste of resources, both for the householder and local authority.

Camden’s task force wants the Council to review its policy, looking at ways to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place (for example, by helping manufacturers to eliminate unecessary packaging) and pushing the idea of quality recyclate. Chris Knight, another task force member, recently visited a glass recycling plant, based in Greenwich. He was surprised by the huge impact of contamination on the value of the end product. He comments: “White glass is worth money, but it keeps being contaminated by green and brown glass. Residents can use the on-street recycling bins to keep it separate.”

If the Council acts on the task force’s recommendations, a policy reframe is likely to be needed to secure Camden’s green credentials.

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Councils offered free carton-recycling services

August 2, 2007 at 11:27 am

In an attempt to increase recycling rates in the United Kingdom, the carton manufacturer, Tetra Pak, has agreed to provide local councils with free carton recycling services. At the moment, some 2 billion Tetra Pak cartons are sold in the UK annually, but existing carton-recycling facilities are limited in nature. As it stands, it is not possible to deposit Tetra Pak cartons at the recycling facilities provided by most local councils. Tetra Pak intends to carry out this initiative with the help of the organization, Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment in the UK (ACE UK). Tetra Pak also hopes that its recycling initiative will help dispel commonly-held beliefs that cartons cannot be recycled at all.

The Tetra Pak recycling program will operate as follows. Tetra Pak cartons, which are usually produced using a combination of paper, plastic and metal, will be sent to the company’s reprocessing facility in Orebro, Sweden. At the moment, carton recycling facilities in the United Kngdom are highly limited, as John Rose, Tetra Pak’s director of marketing, notes, “The economic drivers for recycling cartons in the UK are not that strong and they are a tiny part (0.2%) of the waste stream. The technical level in the UK also means that most places require capital investment to be able to recycle cartons which with rising energy costs is hard to justify.”

This initiative is part of a broader plan by Tetra Pak to ensure that its production and distribution operations meet rigorous environmental standards. The company has spent several thousand pounds conducting research about the most cost-efficient methods of recycling its cartons. It has also engaged in consultations with public organisations such as Defra, WRAP and the LARAC. According to John Rose, “Carton recycling for us is something that needs to be sorted. Tetra Pak will provide a limited but full bring bank service to councils and our model is five banks per district. The response has been very positive from local authorities so far and at the moment we are putting bins on the ground for three to five councils every day.”

Tetra Pak’s recycling initiative is expected to last two years. The company hopes that this initiative will encourage the British government to improve carton-recycling facilities sufficiently so that local councils can take over the process once Tetra Pak has reduced its funding for the program. Kerbside collection points would allow residents to deposit empty cartons alongside other recyclable materials. The more households willing to contribute, the greater the impetus for reprocessing mills in the Unted Kingdom to develop their carton-recycling facilities. A Tetra Pak spokesman reiterated this view in a recent interview, stating: “If more volume comes through the business case will get better and better and we would hope to see a UK carton reprocessing facility in the not too distant future.”

Further information about Tetra Pak’s recycling initiative may be found at

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UK leading the way in Europe’s tyre recycling

August 1, 2007 at 11:17 am

One of the most successful recycling stories of late has come from the recovery and recycling of rubber tyres, both within the UK and across Europe. More than 87% of tyres in Europe are now being recycled and avoid going to landfill. The figures, from the European Tyre and Rubber Manufactures Association reveal that the UK made a 3 percentage point rise in the tyre recovery rate in 2006, which was spurred on by tough new laws laid out by the Landfill Directive. The Landfill Directive is a piece of legislation issued by the European Union to safeguard environmental issues and govern the handling and disposal of waste.

Just shy of the outstanding 100% tyre recovery rate achieved by countries such as France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, the UK’s 93% was still an improvement from the previous year and in terms of actual tonnage being recycled, the UK came out on top with 254,000 tonnes in 2006.

A great deal of the improvement has come from the manufacturers themselves having to take responsibility for the recycling of the old tyres. A four million pound modern tyre recycling plant in South Wales will soon be capable of recycling up to 4 million tonnes of used tyres per year (100 tonnes a day) and then turning the rubber into what is known as ‘crumb’.

The process at the plant involves submerging the old tyres in liquid nitrogen, which then freezes the rubber into shreds at -80oC. When they are brittle enough they are then smashed into tiny crumbs. After this the crumbs have many uses particularly in the manufacture of artificial sports pitches, insulation products, rubber flooring etc.

Chairman of the company in charge of the Welsh plant, Andy Hilton, said “Chipping and processing facilities allow us to make waste tyres from the point of disposal all the way through to them becoming a useful product again” (Tyre Trade News). Besides the ‘crumb’, the plant in South Wales, and others like it, also produce steel and fibre from the process. The resulting steel is very strong and goes into a wide range of products whilst the fibre, currently used in insulation and cattle bedding has potential for the production of energy.

The tyre campaign started in 2006 by DEFRA, the Environment Agency, will hopefully prevent the illegal fly tipping of tyres (which can result in a 2 year imprisonment or unlimited fine) and also provides a help line for people wanting to find out the correct ways, both in terms of the law and the environment, to dispose of their tyres.

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