Recycling abroad

October 29, 2008 at 1:27 pm

The UK has been dubbed ‘the dustbin of Europe’ because we throw so much away in comparison to the rest of Europe. The government are encouraging people to recycle more and although it has become more popular in the UK, our continental counterparts are still streets ahead.

Germany, Austria & Switzerland

Germany and its German-speaking neighbours, Austria and Switzerland, take recycling seriously. There are even laws about separating your rubbish. Houses and apartment buildings all have several bins that are colour-coded to tell you where to dispose of your paper, glass, packaging and ‘green’ waste such as food and garden trimmings. There are even colour-coded bins in train stations, so there really is no excuse.
Supermarkets offer disposal of packaging before you leave the premises and batteries are to be returned to the stores for safe disposal. Drinks containers are cleaned thoroughly before reuse. Almost all bottles carry ‘Pfand’, a deposit refunded on return of the bottle. This deposit is normally between 15 and 25 euro cents, depending on the bottle’s size and material.


Scandinavia is often considered to be the ‘greenest’ area of Europe. This is not just because of its large areas of woodland and lakes but because Scandinavian governments have set high standards. Like their southern neighbours, Denmark, Norway and Sweden also have separate rubbish disposal for paper, plastics, glass, medicines, metals, chemical waste… in fact almost anything you can think of!

Southern Europe

However, it is a different story for the laidback, carefree Europeans in the south. In Greece recycling bins are almost unheard of and the capital, Athens, is now being described as a ‘toxic time bomb’ (International Herald Tribune, 2007) due to the waste management crisis there.
And the situation is no better in Italy, where recycling facilities differ from area to area. Inhabitants of Rome face hundreds of euros in fines if they do not recycle and the city has 2500 new colour-coded bins for separating rubbish. In contrast, Naples is struggling with a disposal dilemma similar to Athens’.
France, Spain and Bulgaria will be facing similar crises if they do not act soon.

So, while we might not be as bad as the Athenians, we still have a lot to learn from our friends in the cold north.

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A revolutionary plant to put UK on top of the game

October 24, 2008 at 5:36 pm

The UK is going to break new ground next year and raise its recycling efforts up to the very latest in technological standards. A new recycling plant has been given the go ahead in West Sussex, which will make us here in the UK one of the leading players in the world in terms of speed and efficiency of waste management.

By 2009, the site at Ford Airfield on the south coast will potentially be up and running, thanks to the company Viridor Waste Management. The project has been overseen by members of the local parish council and residents of the local area, forming a group called the Ford Material Recycling Facility Liaison Group, who have been on hand throughout the entire planning process.

The site will manage up to 85,000 tonnes of local waste per year. What is different though about this site is the sheer volume of materials it can sort and the different range of materials it can handle and all of this at much greater speeds than those currently achieved in similar plants. One of the new innovations is a conveyor belt fitted with highly sensitive sensors that pick out different items from the belt and send them to different sections of the plant. Shape, texture, colour, magnetisation and weight are just some of the new ways it selects items. This plant will be setting a benchmark for the rest of the recycling facilities here in the UK when it opens.

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Vehicle recycling rises

October 15, 2008 at 10:30 am

Last May, the Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) announced that only around three quarters of a million of the two million vehicles scrapped annually in the UK had Certificates of Destruction (CODs). However, the figure for this year looks set to rise.

How many of us have even heard of Certificates of Destruction though, let alone know what they are, why they are important, who can issue them and why we should steer clear of the illegal operators in the business?

Four years ago, regulations were introduced governing the environmental standards for recycling “end-of-life vehicles” (ELVs). The certificates can only be issued by recycling operators, known as Authorised Treatment Facilities, who meet the standards set down by Europe’s ELV directive.

There are over 1400 treatment facilities in the UK which have been able to prove that vehicles are scrapped in an environmentally friendly fashion. For instance, before vehicles are shredded, they must have hazardous oil, other fluids such as petrol and components removed, in a way unlikely to damage the environment. All motor manufacturers have opted for one of two recycling companies – Autogreen and Car Take Back – to deal with their vehicles, but there is no obligation on the owner to use the company chosen by the manufacturer.

Many owners of vehicles to be scrapped seem, however, to be unaware of the requirements, and Duncan Wemyss of the Motor Vehicle Dismantlers’ Association feels that a major publicity campaign is needed. He suggests that a leaflet in the annual road tax reminder would raise public awareness.

There is also the problem of a loophole in the system, which allows drivers to tick a box on the deregistration form, indicating that they have scrapped the vehicle themselves, cutting out the need for a certificate. In May last year, the DVLA claimed that steps were being taken in conjunction with the Department for Trade and Industry to solve the loophole but, five months later, Duncan Wemyss said: "The DVLA is doing nothing to support the legal operator. There has been a lot of talking but it has done nothing as yet to overcome this and there are people now who are considering closing down because they are not getting the vehicles through."

The high price of scrap metal is a motivating factor in continuing their illegal trade, making it increasingly difficult for the legal operators to compete. For the driver, however, the scheme should be straightforward, with no fee being charged for scrapping the unwanted vehicle and with most of the UK’s population being within a 30 mile drive of an Authorised Treatment Facility.

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Energy from waste a threat to long term recycling targets?

October 14, 2008 at 1:58 pm

A protest has failed to stop plans for an incinerator to provide energy from waste in East Sussex. The protest against the Newhaven incinerator, which would burn more than 200,000 tonnes of waste each year, was mounted by a coalition of different groups concerned by its impact on the long-term outlook for recycling. The High Court rejected the protests in a ruling.

Those behind the protest included the Defenders of the Ouse Valley, Newhaven Town Council, and the Lewes District Friends of the Earth. Their concern is that incinerating waste destroys the urgency of the recycling message to the Newhaven community and beyond. Aside from the question of carbon emissions, incineration discourages people from recycling as much of their waste as they can. They argue that regional recycling targets of 60 percent of all household waste by 2025 require the East Sussex and Brighton and Hove County Councils to change radically householders’ approach to waste.

Councils are under pressure to keep waste out of landfill, and public spending can only fuel this concern about the lack of importance being attached to everyday awareness of recycling. Funds were withdrawn earlier in the year from the recycling promotion organization WRAP, whilst £2 billion in Private Finance Initiative credits are available to councils to meet the costs of waste management. A network of anti-incineration campaigners has published a map showing the locations of more than 100 planned sites for incinerators across the UK.

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The Big Farce

October 8, 2008 at 3:46 pm

Doncaster council has become one of the newest members of The Big Tidy-Up campaign, an anti-litter initiative launched by Keep Britain Tidy. The scheme enjoyed something of a heyday throughout September with a number of events aimed at increasing public awareness of pressing environmental issues. Unfortunately, despite the publicity surrounding the campaign, the local council persists in demolishing housing estates, creating desolate areas plagued by gangs, unlicensed motorcycles, and piles of litter and debris.

Edlington and Hyde Park are two small suburbs on the outskirts of Doncaster. The former was once home to the biggest coal mine in Great Britain but its population is declining rapidly owing to the demolition of two of its larger housing estates. Doncaster council has vexed countless residents by refusing to develop the brown-belt land left in the wake of house clearance, with some landowners blasting the scheme as a major contributor to anti-social behaviour.

The Big Tidy Up is an admirable venture but one that is not going to gain any popularity beyond primary school classrooms unless its ultimate goals become less cosmetic and more visible in the community. At present, the scheme manifests itself as a thin veil over more important issues. The decision not to extend the campaign to local woodland tracks in dire need of maintenance, for example, may prove lethal.

The Doncaster Free Press has reported that the total cost of estate demolition is around the £14 million mark, approximately thirteen times more than the site is worth to developers. The council is haemorrhaging cash under the guise of regeneration and an insistence on creating the perfect haven for commercial entities. This revelation comes only a week after it was discovered that the local airport (Robin Hood) is not financially viable. The Big Tidy Up campaign appears to be the metaphorical equivalent of putting a plaster on a severed leg: unless the big issues are addressed first, recycling and encouraging people to dispose of their litter properly is going to do nothing to preserve the local environment.

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