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

A A A

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.

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education require a ...

SEN Teacher - Hull

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for spe...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking EY...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: NEWLY QUALIFIED TEACHER WE CAN HELP ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor