Monday, 1 August 2011

Why can't we recycle more?

I began writing this a couple of weeks ago, about Glasgow City Council's inability to implement a half decent recycling scheme but didn't quite get around to finishing and posting it.  Since then, there have been signs of improvement, which I'll come on to after outlining the situation in the recent past.

HISTORICAL SITUATION

Glasgow likes to think of itself as the ‘Dear Green Place’ but it is unfortunately far from Green. Although the city is being promoted as a hub for renewable energy with both Scottish Power and Scottish & Southern Energy locating their renewable energy divisions in the city, the city recycles less than 16% of domestic waste. An assessment of the UKs twenty largest cities,shown below, ranked Glasgow as the 19th most sustainable city overall and 20th in terms of recycling, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that is last place.  With the UK being one of the poorest nations in Europe at recycling, the comparison is grim.

This is not a one off snapshot, it is a continuing trend, with Glasgow City Council being at or near the bottom of the recycling rankings of all 32 Scottish local authorities for several years.

Glasgow was one of the last local authorities to introduce kerbside collections for recyclable waste,  the items that could be recycled was fairly limited and the collections only monthly.   Only newspapers and magazines, plastic bottles and cans could be put in the blue recycling bin which was half the size of the standard bin which is emptied weekly. For every unit of recycling removed, there are 8 of general waste.  Add to that the high number of multiple occupancy properties, for which the council has difficulty implementing a recycling strategy, and there is no surprise that recycling rates are so low.  Glasgow City Council blames the difficulty in collecting recycling from these multiple occupancy properties as the main reason for its poor performance although other large cities have similar population densities.

Comparison between the city and its near neighbour, Edinburgh, which recycles or composts 29% of household waste is perhaps unfair as Glasgow is much larger and more densely populated.  However, with the exception of Glasgow, urban areas traditionally tend to have better recycling rates than rural areas.

A couple of years ago, when we had baby food jars to recycle, glass could only be recycled at some of the supermarkets, but the facilities were often full and wouldn't accept any more material. We would drive around for a few weeks with a box of bottles and jars rattling about in the car, looking for an opportunity to recycle them before finally tossing them in the general waste bin. If recycling is too hard most people will not do it.

RECENT IMPROVEMENTS

In the past year a purple bin was provided for glass recycling, which is lifted monthly.  We find that this is more than enough capacity as we tend to re-use most of our glass jars – returning them for a refill of the next batch of jam, jelly or marmalade - rather than recycling.

A more significant improvement was the replacement last week of our recycling bins with larger ones, the same size as the general waste bin.  The lid of the bin states that cardboard can be accepted, which we had been told could not be accepted.  Following further investigation it transpires that we should have received a letter advising us of this change and a revised fortnightly schedule for recycling collection.  This provides greater opportunity to recycle our waste but there are still limitations, especially when it comes to plastics.  Plastics are limited to plastic bottles, mostly resin Type 1-PET but occasionally resin Type 2-HDPE, although the same type of plastic is found in other packaging, such as the boxes of soft fruit in supermarkets, which are not permitted.  Perhaps the council doesn't think we are up to the task of reading the number on the packaging.

THE ROAD FORWARD

The minor increase in the range of recycleable materials is a step in the right direction but we need to recycle all of the waste that does not biodegrade in a reasonable life span, that is within a year or two, if we are to have any hope of meeting the Scottish Government target of zero waste, with a limit of 5% of waste going to landfill by 2025.  While it is important that the recycling system can take all these recyclable materials, it is equally important to reduce the amount of waste at source.  In terms of total waste per household, Glasgow is actually better than some cities, being only 16th out of twenty.

There are many decisions that we can make as individuals to reduce the waste we generate including choosing foods with less packaging at the supermarket, avoiding single use plastic bags and meal planning so that we have less food waste. I am sure you have heard this before but we must keep reminding our selves of the mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Read it, Think it, Do it.


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