OPINION: Compulsory recycling? Thank God.

In a riposte to the opinion piece below, another tweeter Glenn Guest defends the policy to hand out fines to those who don’t recycle

Recycling is now compulsory. And rightly so. As with everything that is mandatory, there needs to be some kind of penalty attached. In this case, a fine of up to £1000.

According to the letter we all received, recycling waste costs half that of disposing by incineration or landfill. In this period of austerity, such a simple, pragmatic way to reduce costs helps channel much needed funds into other crucial areas –  schools, care for the elderly, or ambulance services, for example.

Recyclable waste has commercial value too. Councils can sell on recyclable items, if they are clean and correctly sorted. Putting extra effort into recycling can help lessen the pinch of budgetary cuts, which will only be a good thing.

The more recycling we do, the better. We are running out of landfill space and, besides that, the 1500 landfill sites in the UK produce a quarter of our methane emissions – a huge, unwanted contribution to the greenhouse effect.

Under the new rules, bulky items – I’ve seen wardrobes left out for the bin men – won’t see out their days rotting in some landfill site, impacting on climate change.

Now we will have to see if they can be donated to someone who can reuse them, be it through charities or websites like Freecycle. Reusing is even more green and cost effective than recycling, and allows those less fortunate to benefit from stuff you no longer need.

I do feel passionately about recycling: I used to live with two guys, in Tower Hamlets – which, incidentally, has the lowest ratio of recycling in London, due to it’s ‘more cost effective’ communal recycling facilities – who didn’t think  recycling applied to them. Grown men who were just too damn lazy, arrogant and ignorant to walk 30 yards to the pink dumpster, preferring to chuck perfectly recyclable stuff down the rubbish chute.

Luckily, we have kerbside collections in Lambeth. Under the new rules, that’s exactly where our waste must be presented. This is to aid timely collection of our detritus, allowing extra time for the ‘collection crew to check for contamination.’ Is the right stuff in the right bag? Get this wrong, and you might receive a stern letter or two…get it wrong consistently and you could get fined £1000.

This could be difficult to police: our ‘house’ is actually 4 ‘households,’ so how would they know whose was whose? Also, the ruling on garden waste being banned from wheelie bins, now a subscription-only service, conjures imagines of gardeners creeping on tippy-toes, fly-tipping into a neighbouring subscriber’s brown bin…

From what I can gather, if the bin men do identify you as persistently flouting the rules, your rubbish will be analysed for three weeks in a row, and if you don’t sharpen up, you will receive letters, then visits from council officers. If you still don’t improve, that’s when you get fined. So it needn’t come to a fine, for any of us.

There certainly needs to be more education – the new rule “plastic pots, tubs and trays (food packaging) will be accepted” surprised me. Our household was recycling them already, apparently this was wrong. So, yes, I agree with Clare Richardson that there needs to be more ‘hand-holding’ but it’s the ‘hand scolding’ that gets people talking and brings gravitas to the situation.


  1. I suspect that it won’t be enforced, because it can’t be enforced. There is even a problem here, where there are two flats with a bin each and we fill up one bin before the other to help the collectors – most weeks we don’t even fill the first bin! Are the council now going to get uptight because we only put out one bin? I can see a small army of people being required to police this, and endless disputes.

    I am also concerned at the style of the letter that went out. It was bureaucratically expressed, and it would be interesting to work out the reading age of the text (quite high I suspect …)

  2. great idea…but not sure how it will work in practice – I live in a large communal block (ex-council, now housing association-managed), and we have to put all our rubbish in a large communal bin downstairs. There is no separate recycling bin, and nowhere separate to put orange bags.

    This must also be the case for a lot of large council and ex council blocks, as well as large private blocks across the borough, and the council’s leaflet makes no reference to cases like that at all, which suggests to me they’re putting this policy into place without thinking it through properly – either that or whoever wrote the leaflet didn’t think about it properly. Still, with so many of us in our block they will have no way of knowing who is, and who isn’t, recycling. Any idea how this is supposed to work?

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