Recycling 101, lesson 2 – when you wish upon a bin

I talked in my previous recycling 101 post about wish cycling. I didn’t know this had a proper name, but I was aware of quite a few people I know doing this – putting things into the recycling bin which they think might be recyclable, and hoping for the best. Or even putting things in that they know aren’t accepted, but that they think should be, as a means of pressuring their local councils to expand their collection to recycle more types of waste.

This is actually a really bad practice, which creates more waste – it can lead to whole batches of recycling being contaminated and therefore ending up in landfill, or even worse, damaging equipment in sorting centres, leading to shut downs. All of this makes the waste management process less efficient and more expensive, which could lead councils to invest less in the process overall. So don’t do it, kids.

There’s also some more interesting stuff here about the global impact of wish-cycling – we know that China were importing two thirds of the world’s plastic waste in 2016, but since then have stopped buying waste from abroad, partly due to the amount of contamination.

So now it seems we are stuck with our own waste (although I don’t fully believe we can be sure that everything is staying in the UK for processing…), you would think it would be easy to find out what can go into which bin, yes? It’s in the interests of local authorities to make it clear, so that their own processes aren’t hampered.

Well. Recycling systems across the UK are hugely variable, as the Government doesn’t mandate exactly how its targets should be met, so it’s up to local authorities to implement schemes which suit their local area. The Greenwich Council information is reasonably good, but doesn’t answer a few questions. It talks about “mixed dry recycling”, asks residents to wash out food waste containers, but isn’t clear about whether recylables should be completely dry (they definitely should). It also doesn’t specify exactly what types of plastics it accepts, e.g. black plastic, tetrapacks etc.

So to avoid wish cycling, I think that you have to be quite determined. “Check locally” often just means checking the local council website, but sometimes you have to work quite a bit harder e.g. emailing or tweeting with a specific question. The RecycleNow recycling locator is helpful for confirming what’s accepted kerbside in some areas, and finding out what to do with other things which may need to be taken to a local recycling centre.

There are lots of useful recycling labels used on packaging to help people – lists here and here – but this labelling isn’t mandatory and is missing from a lot of packaging. Industry leaders have recently called on MPs to bring in laws to make recycling labels simpler for the public to understand, which in turn would improve the efficiency of the recycling process.

I had a look for any petitions about this specific issue – there are about a gazillion on different plastics and recycling issues. This one is suggesting mandatory labelling of types of plastics used to aid recycling, which would make sense if councils were clearer on what they accept by plastic type, rather than product type.

So maybe I should start a petition on this? Or is it pointless to have another one in the hundreds already circulating? I’m still pretty convinced that our recycling infrastructure is dysfucntional and I’m not sure how to influence it. And I doubt this will be high on the agenda of our new Prime Minister… *sigh*.

Perhaps I will write to my local MP about it. We’re practically penpals now after #smokegate.

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