More recycling on the go options could help to hit EU targets

recycling on the go

How many different coloured bins for recycling do you have at home? In recent years we’ve all become more adept at separating our trash depending on its type but, what about when we’re on the move?

A recent poll suggests that while 93% of us recycle at home only 25% of us do so when we’re out and about. Most of us would admit to a responsibility to recycle and bin our waste but if the opportunity just isn’t there when we’re out of the house it makes things difficult.

The initial push to get people to recycle more saw a great surge to begin with but as time has passed by the rates are beginning to slow down. There is a great opportunity to increase recycling rates further by providing the facilities for people to use, especially in high footfall locations such as supermarkets, and by looking at ways to introduce incentives. Around 580,000 plastic bottles enter the UK’s household waste each year yet only around 52% of them are being recycled, that equates to something in the region of 306,000 tonnes of materials.

England’s recycling rates – which were at 12.5% in 2001 and grew significantly each year before stopping at 43% in 2011 and rising by just 0.2 percentage points the following year – showed there was a need for greater government intervention. Under an EU targets, households must recycle 50% by 2020, and potentially up to 70% by 2030. In order to maximise the potential of people recycling on the go local authorities also need to buy into the idea of creating facilities to do so.

Despite recycling at home having been revolutionised in the last decade there is still confusion over what people could recycle. This is a problem exacerbated by there being 400 different waste schemes in England, meaning people have to learn them afresh every time they move or go on holiday. There are householders who are still confused over what can and cannot be recycled and only a quarter of them actually recycle waste correctly.

Meanwhile some councils are using innovative ideas to boost household recycling. From making food waste collections more frequent than refuse collections, to mechanically sifting black bags to recycle their contents, to knocking on doors of those who contaminate recycling, some are managing to significantly reduce what goes to landfill. Recycling performance also varies considerably between local authorities – with householders in the lowest performing areas recycling less than a quarter of all the waste material they produce. At the other end of the scale, households in the best performing local authorities recycle as much as 65.7 per cent.

Issues that are stopping councils moving ahead with recycling measures include local authority budget cuts, as councils divert stretched budgets away from promoting recycling and focus on education and roads. Hitting the targets is becoming ever trickier as households are generally using – and therefore throwing away – less glass and paper, two of the most commonly recycled kinds of rubbish.

In England, households produced 22.6 million tonnes of waste in 2012-13 – the equivalent of 423kg per person. Of that total, 9.8m tonnes was recycled or composted with the rest either going to landfill, being burned to produce electricity or increasingly being exported to other countries to burn for power.

The suggestion for more weekly food waste collections, not offered by all councils currently, could lead to around 500,000 extra tonnes of recycling being collected, against a shortfall of nearer 2 million tonnes needed to hit EU targets.