Totally rubbish: Britain risks turning into a nation of wasters

Are you suffering from green-bin fatigue? As Britain's recycling rate looks set to fall, Simon Usborne examines why we risk turning into a nation of wasters


For evidence that confusion about dustbins may have reached some sort of tipping point, note two things: the worrying report this week that an unprecedented fall in recycling, blamed on "green fatigue", could mean Britain misses EU waste targets; and the results of a Google News search for "recycling bins".

Bin wars have broken out in parts of Brighton, Brighton and Hove News reports, between residents who welcome the removal of individual recycling bins from pavements and those who can't be bothered to walk to the new communal bins (which have also occupied valuable parking spaces).

Derry City Council is "bin laden", the Belfast Telegraph reports (too soon for Osama puns?) after stockpiling thousands of brown recycling bins for two years while it buys trucks that are equipped to collect them. This, despite the city's perhaps unsurprising position at the bottom of Northern Ireland's ranking for recycling.

A whiff of good news in Newport, where the introduction of smaller bins has nudged residents into throwing away less rubbish, and recycling more. But in Wolverhampton – scandal! Almost 25,000 recycling bins were left unemptied on the pavement during a six-month period because they were found to contain the wrong kind of rubbish, including food waste and – hold your nose – disposable nappies.

And so it goes on, and on – pages of results that reveal a nation of keen recyclers let down by councils, councils let down by lazy recyclers and – above all – confusion. All of which is bad for Britain. According to Sita UK, which has contracts to take away rubbish from 12 million households, recycling rates risk falling this year for the first time.

In 2000, England recycled just 11 per cent of rubbish. By 2012 the figure had risen steadily to 43 per cent, but crept up only 0.2 per cent last year (Scotland recycles 41 per cent of waste, while Wales leads the way on 57 per cent). Official figures for this year aren't out until autumn, but Sita believes that they will reveal a decline. This makes heavy EU fines more likely if Britain fails to hit the target of 50 per cent recycling by 2020.

What is to be done? Sita blames the proliferation of multi-coloured bins for different sorts of rubbish, putting off lazier waste- makers. Mixed recycling always leads to higher rates, the company has observed, but green campaigners warn that councils can be just as disinclined or unable to sort waste as we are, meaning more ends up in landfill.

But a word of sympathy for local authorities, which face growing demands to recycle more while also seeing budgets cut dramatically. New EU guidance due to come into force in January will require them to do more to collect separated waste, which means more bins, a measure that even the best-performing councils question, and not only because of the cost.

Keith Gordon, who is in charge of environment matters at Rochford District Council in Essex, which issues three bins per household and recycles 66 per cent of waste – more than any other local authority– told the Daily Telegraph: "Do you want to get to the point where you have six bins or six boxes? It can look like you have a line of Daleks all the way down the road."

Unsightly bins are already so unpopular in some suburban and rural parts of the country that it's a wonder Ukip didn't make bin reduction one of its key policies before last week's European elections ("Je refuse! could have been its answer to rubbish demands from Brussels). But whether or not councils decide more bins are the way to higher rates, recycling will always be a matter of individual will. Don't want loads of bins? Take your waste to communal ones. Hate food caddies? Compost your own leftovers. Ultimately: waste less, care more.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little