Philobiblon: A rubbish performance on recycling

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A rubbish performance on recycling

I was peering into my rubbish bag this evening, wondering how I could further reduce its bulk. (I was reading somewhere that each household should only produce one small bag a week, and I'm nowhere near that, despite recycling all glass, tin cans, paper, plastic bottles, non-printed cardboard and vegetable scraps.)

The main remaining problems are glossy-printed cardboard (which the worm farm on the balcony can't handle - although they munch through egg cartons and similar with glee) and, the biggest bulk, Tetra Paks.

Now the glossy printed cardboard could, I believe, technically be recycled by taking it to the one depot in the whole of the Borough of Camden, somewhere near Kentish Town. Fine in theory, but not entirely practical when my method of transport is bicycle.

But the Tetra Paks are the main problem. I suppose if I were really dedicated I could stop getting fruit juice that way and buy a juicer, but even if I did that the milk and soy milk cartons would remain. So why aren't the Tetra Paks recycled? I know it is possible, since I saw a bin for them when last on holiday in France. (In Biarritz.)

Researching around the subject, I found that one think-tank suggests that a lot of the problem in the UK is the government's weight-based targets for councils.

In the UK, only 2% of the kind of liquid cartons produced by Tetra Pak are recycled, while the European average is 30%.

In fact there is only one recycling plant in the UK, in Fife in Scotland. Not what you'd call central. (They are typically 75% paper, 20% polyethylene and 5% aluminium foil - so the paper at least should be quite easy to recycle.)

At least according to the manufacturer, there are soon going to be a lot more of these packs around.

And there are potential environmental benefits, when you think about it - much less weight to cart around than glass. On wine Tetra Paks, a report says:

Tetra Pak ... reduces packaging waste by 93% compared to recycling glass, and costs 83% less to recycle than glass. Its lower weight saves fuel in transport, and whereas a standard bottle adds 90% to the total weight of the item, the Tetra Pak adds 4%.

So it really is time that this recycling issue was addressed.

(While researching this I came across a potentially useful website. Plug in your UK postcode, and it will list the nearest recycling sites for various objects and substances.)

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