Recycling madness

Some more sensible countries have had deposit schemes on bottles for as long as I can remember. So for example living in Sweden or on a school trip to Germany (both in the 1970s), I’d buy a bottled drink, drink it, then return the bottle and get a part of the original purchase price back.

30 years on, we still don’t have anything comparable in the UK. And milk bottles – the one sensible re-use scheme we had – have declined hugely. The best .UK can do is bottle banks – chuck in your glass indiscriminately, and it goes into some recycling process. Presumably something energy-intensive, involving melting the glass down. But at least industrial processes like that benefit from economies of scale.

But now there’s a new version of our recycling: kerbside collection. That comes with new instructions: wash up everything before recycling.

Erm, What? A lot of glass bottles and jars have narrow necks. If they’ve contained anything that needs more than a simple rinse, they can be difficult or impossible to wash up using the equipment available in an average domestic kitchen. At best, it takes a lot of water: forget about little things like not leaving the tap running while brushing the teeth!

And that’s for glass that’s going straight into an industrial recycling process, which presumably involves re-washing it in any case. Only the recyclers have the benefit of industrial-grade equipment and economies of scale, so they’re obviously going to make a much better and more efficient job of it!

Is there any rationale at all for making recycling such a wasteful and inefficient process?

Posted on April 6, 2007, in environment, rants, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Sometimes Britain is its own worst enemy. When I was a kid there were electric trams, trolley buses, loads more stations and railway lines and glass bottles with recycling deposits. All very green, but also thought of as archaic by the 60s modernists who got rid of them all in unseemly haste. So unnecessary, but they wanted to make a political point.

    I used to make quite a bit of extra pocket money scavenging for old bottles that still hadn’t had their deposits reclaimed. Corona pop was ubiquitous and full of variety. Now all we get are versions of Coke and less variety. And plastic that will last for thousands of years polluting the environment.

  2. Having lived both in North Cornwall and now West Devon, it’s been interesting to compare their recycling schemes. Both have kerbside collections but with significant differences. For example North Cornwall take plastic bottles, West Devon don’t. On the whole I preferred North Cornwall. More materials were collected, and they were more transparent about end uses. For example, the glass is ground up locally and used as part of the mix for road resurfacing in Cornwall. This seems eminently sensible, as it reduces transport miles, requires less energy than melting down the glass but still puts it to an economic end use. However they still like their glass to be rinsed. I guess this is because someone in so-called “environmental health” says that unwashed glassware attracts rodents, or something like that!

    At least the councils are starting to make an effort but I agree that we are lagging well behind best European practice and some schemes seem to be run more for the benefit of the bureaucrats and health and safety police than for efficient resource reuse.

    Fifthdecade makes some very good points, especially around the shortsighted dismantling of electric urban transport systems and closure of railway lines and stations; so much useful and “green” transport infrastructure was irrevocably lost in the interests of short-sighted “modernisation”, Tavistock’s own railway closure in 1968 being a case in point.

  3. They ask us to wash stuff because the alternative is boxes with lids like Milton Keynes used to have when I was there and that’s more expensive. Recycling is currently done in most places to meet government targets on recycling, not for the underlying goal. It’s the tragedy of targets, yet again.

  1. Pingback: Waste disposal « niq’s soapbox

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