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Do you know what goes in your recycling bin?

Recycling bin full of recycling

Do you know exactly what types of waste you can put out for recycling? You might be unaware of just how much your council will take if the results of our recycling investigation are anything to go by.

As I researched the latest Which? investigation into recycling, I was (as something of a self-professed know-it-all on the subject) surprised to find I can recycle a far wider range of waste than I’d thought.

I’d been diligently putting out my paper, cardboard, cans and plastic bottles in my green recycling box every week.

Now it transpires that, at some indeterminate point in the past four years, Haringey Council started collecting a number of things I’d been blithely chucking in the black bin. These include drink cartons and most types of plastic packaging, like yoghurt pots and margarine tubs.

Give us a clue about recycling

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is great news and the council should be applauded for its efforts to increase recycling rates. In fact, there are now so few items that can’t be collected that our two-person-one-cat household puts less than a carrier bag’s worth of waste in the black bin every week.

My gripe, however, is that the council did virtually nothing to tell me about its vastly improved service – leaving me to find out myself from its website.

Of course, the information might have been squirreled away in the magazine it sends me every few months. But judging by the pile of magazines amassing in my communal hallway, these circulars aren’t a must-read for residents.

In any case, the contents of most of the recycling boxes on my street would suggest that few of my neighbours are aware of the full range of things that can be collected for recycling.

Councils need to communicate

I think that important changes to recycling services should be publicised more prominently. A flyer through the door or sticker on the recycling box wouldn’t be too much to ask, would it?

And a general lack of information about recycling isn’t just a problem where I live. In our survey 73% said more information about how to use their recycling service would motivate them to recycle more often.

Almost half of the councils that responded to our Freedom of Information Act request said they don’t proactively inform new residents how their new collection works. Considering many of these may have moved from an area with a very different type of recycling service, it’s not surprising there’s a problem getting information to residents.

Recycling is good for the environment and – as ‘landfill tax’ on dumping rubbish rises, meaning higher costs for councils and council tax payers – good for your wallet too.

But for recycling services to be effective, councils need to give us clear and timely information about how they work. Mine doesn’t, does yours?

Do you know what goes in your recycling bin?

Yes - my council is good at informing me (76%, 122 Votes)

No idea - I need better information (13%, 21 Votes)

Yes - but only because I've found out myself (11%, 17 Votes)

Total Voters: 160

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Dave W says:
29 October 2010

I know what my council will take for recycling but I feel it could do more. The only plastics it will take are ‘bottles’ without caps. I noticed some plastic packaging is marked ‘PEP’ which I believe is recyclable but when questioned my council said it could not take that type of plastic, struck me as odd.
On the good side they have started taking paper with glue such as envelopes and telephone directories.
I was also pleased to see a number of ‘tech’ products I purchased recently are protected by packaging similar to eggs crates, an ideal use for recycled paper I would have thought.

Sophie Gilbert says:
29 October 2010

I can’t disagree that some councils are better than others at informing their residents of the various services they offer, recycling or otherwise, but if I became a new resident somewhere I’d actually be proactive and look up the council’s website or phone them to obtain a leaflet or something. Sometimes it isn’t too difficult for the horses to take themselves to water.

In Edinburgh, where there are tenements for example, there are shared residential recycling points, ie black wheelie bins in the streets, with green lids for “packaging” recycling and blue lids for paper recycling. Each bin has a sticker on it telling you what can or can’t stick in it. The information is therefore at hand for most people (I haven’t checked if the info stickers have Braille engraved on them or not).

Kerbside recycling services, for residential areas where there are mostly houses, are less good in the sense that each box doesn’t have a sticker on it reminding the owner what can be put in it. This is especially unfortunate because the boxes are red and blue, not green and blue like the lids of the wheelie bins, and because you can’t put together the same things in the red and blue boxes as you can in the green-lidded and blue-lidded wheelie bins. I’m told it’s because the company who empties the wheelie bins and recycles the stuff isn’t the same as the company who does the kerbside boxes, which I find utterly bizarre. This colour-coding in itself wouldn’t matter if house-dwellers didn’t also probably sometimes use supermarket car park recycling bins, which are the exact same ones as the shared residential recycling bins. You get better results if you don’t confuse people.

I won’t dwell on recycling in supermarket car parks in Edinburgh because I imagine the situation here will be largely the same as everywhere else: the recycling bins have stickers on them telling you what you can/can’t recyle in them, but they don’t tell you where to go to recycle what they don’t accept.

My only beefs with my council is they supply orange plastic bags to recycle in – but give us too many each month – I now have 15 rolls that I can’t recycle. .

They also don’t recycle what I consider items they should – like any plastic except clear bottles – no cardboard and no glass.

But at least it is a start.

Rachel says:
4 February 2011

Our local council is Babergh in Suffolk and they are very good at informing us about what you can recycle and also have a very good recycling scheme – the blue wheelie bin system where you can put all your recycling items in, except glass for obvious reasons, and waxed cartons. Glass has to be taken to a bottle bank. It is so simple to do, there is much less confusion. I dont know how efficient it is at the other end at the sorting plant, but it seem to work to me! I dont know why more councils dont adopt this scheme rather than complicated boxes for different things. We can recycle all types of hard plastic, eg cartons, bottles, microwave meal trays etc. Also cardboard, junk mail, foil, tin and aluminium cans. When the blue bins were first introduced we had someone from the council calling round door to door to explain it all and answer questions. We have a blue bin one week and a black bin the other, a leaflet is put through doors giving the general collection timetable including bank holiday weeks, and the bin lorries are very efficient and always collect even in the snowy weather!!

Incidentally I have found a way of recycling waxed cartons, I ‘export’ them to Derbyshire High Peak, where family live. Their recycling system is not as good as ours (except for the strange anomaly of the waxed cartons) and plastic cartons come our way in exchange! However we don’t have that many.