Time for us all to bin our wasteful attitudes towards recycling

Recycle boxesCROYDON COMMENTARY: Not enough residents are doing enough to reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill by simply sorting out their recycling properly for collection. This costs our council millions in unnecessary landfill tax.

According to ROBIN BAILEY, it’s time to start fining those who are not doing their bit to save the planet

I live in a multiple-occupancy semi-detached house in Selhurst. Basically it contains seven studio flats or bedsits. As far as I can tell, only two, or possibly three of the seven occupants bother to put anything in the recycling boxes. And neither the council nor their contractors, Veolia, do anything about that. It makes me so angry.

There are several families among the residents. For the number of adults and children who live here, collectively we should be filling three blue recycling boxes and three green ones every two weeks. But after two weeks, I usually see only one blue box or one green box full, at least half of which is my recycling.

In 2005, my South Korean housemates told me how, in their country, local government carefully enforces minimum amounts of recycling and residents who don’t meet that level are fined.

This may sound a bit strict but at the end of the day it’s for the good of everyone in the world. I believe that this already happens in some European countries, too. It was even put forward as a proposal by Croydon Council in 2012, but has never been implemented.  Shouldn’t this have been happening already for years?

I do appreciate the criticism of our having landfill collections only every two weeks, instead of weekly as it used to be. But if everyone recycled more, or as much as they could and should do (including regular use of the organic recycling containers, which are now collected weekly), then they would find that having their black bags in wheelie bins emptied only once a fortnight less of a problem.

Proper recycling of our cardboard, paper, glass and plastics is not difficult and doesn't take much time

Proper recycling of our cardboard, paper, glass and plastics is not difficult and doesn’t take much time

If we recycled more – just by sorting out the plastics, glass and cardboard into the right recycling boxes – some households would only really need one wheelie bin, not two. Others, like my seven-flat house, could easily get by with three wheelie bins instead of four, with a bit of recycling effort.

But at the end of the two weeks, our four wheelie bins are always either full or overflowing. Meanwhile, the recycling boxes remain half-empty, with no incentive or possible sanction to encourage us to do more.

I phoned the council’s recycling line a few months ago to complain about this situation. The guy’s response is that the fault lies with my landlord, that it’s he who should be making sure that all my fellow tenants do some recycling.

I do not agree with that. While there are some things that my landlord should be doing, I don’t think that policing his tenants’ recycling is one of them. He could put up a poster or two in the flat, but it’s not my landlord who collects the rubbish or processes it, is it? It’s Croydon Council and Veolia who are mainly responsible for tackling the issue of residents not recycling enough.

There’s also the “second bin issue”.

Some people seem to be just using the recycling boxes as a second bin, putting anything and everything into them. When I walk around Selhurst, South Norwood and Thornton Heath, I see this so often. What worries me about this is how much of this waste gets recycled. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is all despatched to landfill as “contaminated”, and unusable as recyclable material.

All Croydon residents pay for every ton of rubbish that goes to landfill, through a landfill tax which is met out of our Council Tax. If we reduced the amount of waste going into a hole in the ground by doing our bit and recycling better, it would save our council, and us, money.

But there’s a bigger issue here. Much bigger.

It seems that a lot of residents in the borough aren’t taking global warming, the depletion of resources and the increasing world population very seriously. This includes some parents who have young children.

If we can’t be bothered to do a little bit of sorting of our rubbish each week, what kind of world are these children and their future children going to have?

  • Robin Bailey works in south London as an English as a foreign language tutor, and describes himself as a “recycling activist”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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12 Responses to Time for us all to bin our wasteful attitudes towards recycling

  1. farmersboy says:

    I expect in the small print somewhere the council will have to send 100 million tons of waste a month to our shiny new incinerator or be fined so recycling will eventually be banned as uneconomical

  2. Being Green may well be a very good thing but also lots of different bins all over the place is just unsightly and theres also the fact that bins are not always empty weekly and people do not know just what can be recycled or not. The fact is as a Council tax payer I do not feel its job of tax payers to do the work of Veolia and or be unpaid employees of the Council who do better by having one bin takes all and let the Contractors staff at their site do the sorting out of what is Landfill and recyclable. This make sure things are done Green and save money longterm. It also create jobs and prevent unclean streets and pest issues. But this is just to easy and simple and one can expect the finger pointing downers.

    • So are you saying that you are just too lazy to set aside your plastics, glass and card to put them out separately?

      The fact is that if those easily sortable materials are put in a landfill black bin bag “at source” – that is by you, the householder – then the chances are that at the waste centre they will be regarded as “contaminated”, rendeeing them unrecyclable and so destined for landfill, or the incinerator.

      Both of which cost you, the ratepayer, more.

      Simply because you can’t be arsed. Thanks.


  3. blath8 says:

    So do you think there’s any chance that less effort is going into encouraging and educating residents how to recycle because with a brand new incinerator imminent, more waste will be needed to keep it operating day and night, so any ‘contaminated’ recycling loads can happily be chucked in? And on a slight tangent, ‘clean’ waste will also be needed by the (or any) incinerator when their toxic emissions break the agreed ‘safe’ limits. Interestingly enough, green waste, for which our Council recently started to charge separately for collection, (therefore a certain proportion of those who can’t or don’t wish to pay for this could put it in a black bag for collection with refuse) is exactly the type of clean waste that is needed to bring the toxic emissions back down again. Queues of residents wishing to use our recycling facilities are getting longer – I have personally experienced the on Monday. Could some be doing the right thing and bringing their green waste for recycling? And how does sitting in a queue for 20 minutes with the car engine running square with recycling 2 bags of leaves and twigs?
    I’m a happy recyclopath – I returned home with a small bag of hard plastics on Monday as I refused to put them into the landfill container as instructed because the one that I needed was not there 🙂

  4. mraemiller says:

    I would recycle more if the Council’s bin emptying service worked. I had so many problems trying to use the food recycling service but in the end I gave up. It was too erratic … To the point that the only thing I could see benefiting from it was the rats. They don’t seem to get that disposing of rotting food might be more urgent than recycling unbiodegradable plastics.

    I’ve also had bins disappear for long periods and not be replaced for weeks because they are “broken”. It seems that having spares would be too costly an extravagance…

  5. Rod Davies says:

    At an ECCO meeting last year council officers from the Green Team said if requested they would come out to meet residents of multi-occupancy properties to discuss how they might improve refuse disposal, work with landlords and arrange for more bins etc where needed.
    The officers has since been out to meet with community groups at the weekend. It’s worth contacting them.

  6. Rob Bailey says:

    I think everyone’s made some interesting and challenging points. Referring to Sarah-Jane’s comment ‘people do not know just what can be recycled or not’, to be fair to her, I guess we Croydon people could have been better-informed by our council… I did point out to them in writing last year it’s a shame they didn’t write on the boxes when they were produced what should and shouldn’t go into them. I’m going to ask them why they didn’t because to me it’s a mystery, and I find it bizarre and annoying. After all, plenty of other local authorities have this printed, or on stickers, on their recycling boxes or recycling wheelie bins (clearly and well-worded), like Lewisham, Bromley and Lambeth, for a start (along the lines of ‘glass bottles, glass jars, plastic cartons (including tetrapaks) and cans. Nothing else should go in here’. So why didn’t Croydon council do the same?

    But… on the other hand, I’m not going to defend people too much for not knowing more or less what should and shouldn’t go in a blue box or a green box, because:
    – it’s explained pretty clearly in detail on the colour chart I’ve received though my letterbox at least once a year in the three years that I’ve been living in the borough). All residential addresses should have been receiving these important leaflets every year (and I have a feeling they have!) Maybe some of them went straight into a bin rather than going up on the fridge or kitchen noticeboard, for example, despite their importance 🙁
    – this information is easy to find on the council’s website
    – I’ve seen it on posters around the borough
    – and I’ve seen it on the Veolia vehicles too

    Next… about the issue of the council or a contractor doing the sorting rather than us, the public. Well, for a start, regardless of whether you’re for or against that, the fact is that’s not happening at the moment, but in the meantime the issues of harm to the environment and resources depletion aren’t going away, are they? The environment and future generations need people to reduce, re-use and recycle right now, every day.

    At first, employing unemployed people to sort through household rubbish sounded like a nice idea to me. Yes, the council would no longer have to pay them their housing benefit but maybe they’d have only been on it for another few months before getting employed by a private company. But now the council’s going to pay another full-time wage possibly for many years. And where’s that extra, new part of the council’s budget going to come from? I bet it would come from a further increase in council tax.

    For a lot of people council tax is a lot of money, but it should go on necessary services, not unnecessary ones. I don’t see how sorting through rubbish can be one of the many essential services that the council needs to provide, when it’s something that we residents can do so easily and quickly ourselves. I can’t do a firefigher’s work, or a police officer’s or a road repairer’s, things that my council tax goes towards… on the other hand I can rinse a jam jar and throw it in a green box. I I don’t need someone else to do that for me. It’s really not that difficult! It is in a council’s interests for people to come off housing benefit but not if it has to pay them a salary instead for a job which isn’t necessary.

    But as a compromise, and considering Croydon Council’s serious mistake of having no guidelines on the recycling boxes, maybe three or four unemployed people could be employed to go around the borough educating people about what to recycle and to check that they’re sorting correctly and rinsing out.

    In the West we consume so much of the earth’s resources. So this is about us as individual consumers making amends and becoming more ecological. This is about the three Rs (Reduce, Re-use, Recycle).

    Reduce is the most important, because by reducing our consumption there’s less to re-use and recycle.

    We’re each individually responsible for making some effort to reduce our individual impact on the environment and future generations.

    And as the Inside Croydon editor for this post has already pointed out, sorting ‘our cardboard, paper, glass and plastics is not difficult and doesn’t take much time’. I strongly agree, it doesn’t take me longer than 15 minutes per week to rinse the things that need rinsing and to take all my recyclables down to the front garden the day before collection (wow, 15 minutes per week lost, ‘what a personal disaster in my life’ (The Mary Whitehouse Experience)).

  7. Rob Bailey says:

    P.S. If a person is new to the borough and doesn’t know what belongs in a blue recycling box or a green one, then here’s another way for them to find out quickly: by asking a neighbour or friend in the local area. Some of them are bound to know. Alternatively, they could also find out easily by phoning the council and asking them.
    People shouldn’t have to do either of these things really because the information should be on the boxes, but unfortunately it isn’t 🙁 C’est la vie.

  8. Croydon’s response that it is the landlords responsibility is quite correct under landlord licensing but perhaps no one pointed out to Robin that the Landlord, the Police and the Council sign the agreements. If the Landlord does not comply perhaps Robin should have been advised what Croydon Council would do?

  9. In addition having lived in the Countries Robin mentions, it is not quite so easy to transfer. Stuttgart has a good model with a long history of renting and shared cleaning responsibility in common areas. But we do not.

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