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.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test