/ Home & Energy

Nine separate bins? What a load of rubbish

Row of rubbish bins

How many waste bins, bags and boxes are too many for one household? Three, four… how about nine? One council has confused its residents with nine bins in an effort to make recycling easier.

How many bins does your council give you to separate your waste? I know of two from my east London council – one bin for everyday refuse and a plastic bag for recycling. Easy.

Maybe that’s not enough – having one bag for glass, paper and all my other recycling is probably a nightmare for my council’s sorting facilities. But it’s a darn sight easier than having to separate my litter into nine.

Bins, bins and more bins

Yes, Newcastle-Under-Lyme’s council has hit its residents with nine rubbish bins – more than any other council uses in this country.

What goes in them? There are separate containers for refuse, glass and cans, garden waste, cardboard, paper, textiles and plastic bottles. Then there are two extra boxes for food waste – one to go in your kitchen and another for kerbside collection.

That’s just a bit OTT, to say the least. The council hopes that its new system will boost its recycling rates, but at the moment its new bin-heavy tactic seems to be bamboozling residents.

How many bins do you use?

The stat comes by the way of a list compiled by the TaxPayer’s Alliance. I’ve tracked down my council and I’m surprised to find that my council actually offers five bins, not two.

There’s a bin for garden waste and apparently two for food waste. Both are news to me. Then again, my flatmates didn’t even know that we could recycle at all – that’s how rubbish our council’s communication is.

In fact, the average number of bins provided by councils in the UK is four. Twenty-one councils collect seven or more bins (including Aberdeenshire, Middlesbrough and Warwick) in contrast to 161 councils that use three or fewer.

Recycling with more or fewer bins?

Is burdening residents with lots of bins the right way to grow recycling? Sylvia Butler, who has to live with Newcastle-Under-Lyme’s nine bins, told BBC Radio 5 Live that the collection needs to be simplified:

‘We just want a more streamlined system. For people like me who live in a terraced house, or people in flats, it is a nightmare knowing where to keep all these containers.’

However, the council’s head of recycling, Trevor Nicoll, defends the system, saying that not only has it saved money but that the borough’s recycling rate has gone up. He also contended that, if they don’t want to, households don’t need to use all nine bins:

‘There’s no compulsory requirement for people to use the system – basically, people can be flexible to use the container they need for the service they want.’

How many rubbish bins are too many? Do you think recycling is boosted by less bins, or is it better for waste to be separated at its source?


What would really help would be a national system of bins that all local authorities HAVE to adhere to. This way everyone would get a uniform level of recycling and refuse service (unlike the ridiculous situation exposed in a recent Which? report) and the collection vehicles would not be different in every area, meaning that the relatively small number of refuse service providers could move vehicles form one area to another to cover breakdowns, etc.
This would not, of course, mean an automatic reduction in the number of bins in N-U-L (actually I understand that only 4 of the receptacles are bins, but that’s besides the point) and it probably would mean an increase in the number of bins in many other areas, which may not be welcomed by all.
Anyway, that’s my thoughts on the way to control this.

A national system sounds ideal but from what I’ve learnt is that not all parts of the country have the same facilities to be able to recycle. A national colour coding system for bins would be a good idea to start with. And neighbouring authorities should work more closely to share vehicles, resources and infrastructure.

Our local authority provides wheelie bins for green waste (large) and all food waste (small) and one for normal refuse and a box for glass, cans and SOME plastics but not all – the collectors separate it on collection.

For paper, clothing, batteries – we place in a bag (thanks charities, your free bags come in useful :)) or small box

It seems that whilst some councils provide bins/boxes, others save their taxpayers money by collecting recyclable materials but without the expense of providing additional bins/boxes.

Incidentally, our local Tesco gives you Clubcard points for aluminium cans so we separate these out too! Every little helps…

It’s good to recycle, however, I wish more councils explained what happens to the stuff once it’s collected. If it all ends up in a landfill in Lagos then what’s the point?

Also, I almost weep when I see NO recycling facilities at many UK holiday cottages, resorts or hotels. The amount of stuff that ends up in landfill from these places must be staggering.

There is no simple answer.

Some households have plenty of room to store bins in the back garden, but others don’t. Some people meticulously separate their waste whereas others are confused or will not comply. That results in contaminated waste.

We need a national system to help avoid confusion. I have no idea what I can put in bins and boxes if I visit friends and family. The recycling system I am expected to use at home is different from that where I work, less than two miles away!

Because we are supplied with a large black bin for refuse I think we have a tendency to put things in that should be recycled [bottles, textiles] or disposed of more correctly [batteries, electrical things, paint]. There are so few recycling facilities in the area that there is no sensible alternative. The Council also provides a large green bin for paper, card, cans and plastics but the rules are staggeringly complicated [no envelopes, caps off bottles, no hard plastic, no shreddded paper, and so on] so again much recyclable stuff ends up in the black bin. [In our neighbouring council area the black bins are for “green” waste and the green bins are for refuse! – It’s been like that for years but they just won’t change it even though it would be very easy to do so. They say they were the first to introduce recycling bins and the rest of the country is out of step!]. We also have two brown bins for garden waste [when we asked for the second one to cope with the arisings from our large garden it was suggested impolitely that we get a smaller property!] but we have to pay £40 a year each for them for a fortnightly collection so the council can sell the waste to a compost processor. There has been a massive increase in the number of households using the brown bins, because the refuse collectors refuse to empty a black bin with even the slightest whiff of garden material, yet there has been no reduction in charge in line with volume economies nor is any concession available on the purchase of compost which also rises in price year on year despite the increase in supply of compostable material. [My previous council in London offered residents a free compsot day at a local park – bag it up yourself and have as much as you can take]. And before anyone asks, we are not in a position to compost any more than we already do in our own grounds so paying the council to take it away for processing is probably the best environmental solution. I’m not particularly in favour of a uniform national scheme for recycling facilities as each area differs in character but I think there should be standardised colours for receptacles to avoid contamination by occasional users as pointed out above, and an end to the nonsense whereby the packaging tells me it is recyclable but the council doesn’t want it. When I look around the off-licence section of the supermarket I see all these wine bottles from California, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa which we [and some other parts of Europe] have to reprocess. Do containers from those countries go back empty? Can’t we let them have their botles back? And what goes back to China in all the containers they send us? Would they not find a use for some free glass and plastic? Perhaps looking at the overall environmental picture it is better that the container ships go back with lighter loads thus saving carbon fuel [better that they don’t come here in the first place, of course]. And it seems odd that wine from France and Germany is dearer than from Argentina and Australia. Hic!

Whilst I would be happy to separate recyclables more thoroughly as I have space to store several receptacles, I can see that many folk just wouldn’t have the room. Would it be impossible for councils to make both options available – 9 for those that can, 2 or 3 for those that can’t?

I strongly support the idea of uniform colour codes and rules – that really does seem a valid case for central government ‘interference’.

Recycling is still too complicated. Although my council now allow plastic bottle tops to be recycled, and they accept PET blister packaging, they still demand ‘No polystyrene’. But they also invite us to recycle drinking cups and food trays, many of which (if you can manage to read the markings) are marked ‘PS’ which I assume means polystyrene. So do I recycle them or not? And what about damaged polythene utensils – that melted washing up bowl that was too close to the cooker, for example. Its good, recyclable LDPE or HDPE, but will the council accept in the sack? Probably not.

Its a shame that the economics don’t encourage shops and supermarkets to take their bottles back for cleaning re-use, rather than just smashing to mixed broken glass. In the 1970s some French some supermarkets even had an automatic bottle accepting machine which would refund a few centimes for each suitable bottle. I’d be happy to use that facility as it would require little extra storage and no extra trips to recycle.

Dan James says:
2 March 2011

I think it’s high time we started charging councils ground rent on their many bins– lets say 50p per bin per week. This would help people to put up with backyards that are now unuseable due to the many bins cluttering them– some even have to maul them up and down steps— people also need to free up their pathways and entrances to their properties— this small charge might make the councils think twice about obliterating what little space some people have to dry washing keep the kids bikes etc. Since we are doing their job for them anyway by sorting all our rubbish should we not also expect a reduction in council tax bills. When I asked my city council how many tons of ***************************** etc our city had recycled and had been paid for so that they could publish it all in the city magazine I was met with a resounding silence.

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 March 2011

Yes, a national system is required. For one thing, it sickens me to have to chuck out with my everyday rubbish things that would be recycled elsewhere.

Steamdrivenandy says:
20 August 2011

We live on the edge of the NuL area and in fact the councillor who led the introduction of the recycling scheme lives in our road.
Although we have no real problems with the system I can understand how it is an issue for people in smaller houses.
We have the the garden wheelie by our side gate and the rubbish wheelie outside our back door. Luckily we have a deep open rear porch and the glass/tin crate plus the bigger food caddy live on a shelf in the there. The smaller caddy lives beside the sink and the red bag for plastics, the blue bag for paper and the green bag for cardboard live on our utility room worktop. Our utility is 20ft x 5ft so there’s a fair bit of room, but most modern houses have a 40 sq ft utility and ours is 100sq ft. Even with this trend to greater recycling builders don’t seem to be altering house designs to facilitate and accommodate the bags and bins necessary.