In the UK, the general assumption is that we are perfectly au fait with recycling. After all, we’re used to seeing food caddies in kitchens, recycling bins in back gardens, and a multitude of coloured boxes for our different kinds of waste. But is the picture really as rosy as we think? What goes on behind closed doors? Does the UK population recycle as much as it should?
In their annual report for 2018, WRAP found that:
- 54% of UK households report putting one or more items in the residual bin that could actually be collected for recycling in their area.
- 76% of UK households report that they add one or more items to their recycling collections that are not accepted in their area.
There are some promising figures too – the scope for improvement is highest in householders aged 18-34, so hopefully statistics will improve over time.
What are the issues created by a lack of recycling?
When we don’t recycle, waste builds up and becomes problematic. Some of it might end up in landfill, or it might be dumped illegally – this is a growing problem in countries like Poland, where there have been a number of highly-polluting fires at illegal waste dumps. It is also a drain on our natural resources; we need more of them if we are not recycling and reusing.
In short, more waste means more problems for our oceans. Litter that is not recycled can end up in our water systems, being blown away during transportation or once at landfill sites. It might also simply be disposed of irresponsibly, so it doesn’t end up where it should be. Waste is then washed down rivers into the ocean, causing pollution and endangering marine life.
Where is your recycling ending up?
Whilst it’s important to understand the ramifications of not recycling our waste, many of us do recycle and are very conscientious about it – chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you already care about your recycling habits! If this is indeed the case, perhaps you’re wondering where your waste is ending up.
Did you know that much of our plastic waste is actually sent abroad to be recycled? In 2014, 2015 and 2016, we exported 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste! This is because we don’t have the infrastructure to recycle our own plastic waste in this country, so we have to find other ways to get rid of it.
Sadly, these other ways are not always good for our planet. Last year, grave concerns were raised about where some waste was ending up. The waste we send abroad is meant to be recycled, but it’s thought that sometimes, it’s ending up in landfill instead. Some is also being left to leach into rivers and oceans, as the countries importing the waste often don’t have the resources they need to deal with it either. Worryingly, we have exported plastic to countries including Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, which are within the 10 countries known to allow the highest amounts of plastic to enter the ocean.
Councils in crisis
Sending our waste abroad isn’t ideal, but the reality of the matter is that we simply don’t have the resources to deal with it all. However, exporting plastic is becoming highly problematic for many councils, as import bans are being imposed by countries (most notably China) that are no longer willing to take the UK’s additional waste. It’s thought that this could be costing some councils up to £500,000 a year extra.
These import bans are often the result of corruption in the system. It’s a system open to abuse, as companies stand to make a great deal of money from their exports and they make self-declarations about the amounts. British export firms say they have shipped 35,131 more tonnes of plastic abroad than HM Customs has recorded leaving the country!
And in the meantime, the UK’s waste is piling up.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Fortunately, change is happening, albeit slowly.
The government is now considering a new waste scheme that would see us adopting a different approach, getting retailers and packaging producers to cover recycling costs. This is already the case in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, with retailers and producers funding the cost of household recycling collections in full. In the UK, it’s currently the responsibility of councils, who are thought to spend £700m a year on recycling.
It is reassuring to know that recycling and waste are on the government’s radar, so whilst we wait to see how the new waste strategy pans out, these are some of the things you can do:
• This might sound obvious – but recycle, recycle, recycle! Whilst not all recycling is being dealt with as we would hope, your waste at least stands a chance of being recycled. If you put recyclable rubbish into your non-recyclable waste bin, it is 100% going to go to landfill.
• Buy waste free. This is one of the most important steps you can take – if there’s no waste that needs to be disposed of, then all these problems will disappear. Wherever you can, buy from waste-free supermarkets and take your own containers to fill instead of using single-use plastics.
• Vote and exercise your democratic right. We’re not here to tell you who to vote for – we’re here to save the ocean! But with the government controlling our recycling and waste disposal schemes, it’s important we all take responsibility in selecting people we trust to run our country. And if the government aren’t delivering, you can speak up about the reasons why you aren’t happy.
• Support our BinForGreenSeas! We are delighted that we have now raised 80% of the funds needed for our BinForGreenSeas to go to production, not far to go! Thank you so much to everyone who voted for us in the Tesco Bags of Help scheme. Our bins will encourage people in coastal areas to dispose of their waste responsibly, putting a big, bold bin with a big, bold message in front of them that they simply cannot miss. This will help reduce waste on beaches and in the ocean.
We’re nearly there – we just have to raise the last 20% of the money needed to produce our bins. We’ve come such a long way already! We are so grateful for every donation our supporters give us, so if you can spare us any amount at all, it will be much appreciated. Let’s get our bins onto beaches!