Monday, 20 October 2014

Some thoughts on rubbish collections and recycling.

(I know, little bit of an odd topic to come back to blogging with... bear with me!)

Image from the Guardian - James Townson and Sarah Genoves. 

For most of us, bin collection isn't something we really want to think about. We just want to get rubbish out of our house and away.

In their efforts to encourage us to recycle, however, some local councils seem to be pursuing tactics which actually don't work that well for anyone not in the 'default' type of housing for that area.

Where my parents live, for example, the rubbish collection system has recently changed. In the past, black bag waste was collected weekly, and recycling (which you had to separate out yourself) was collected fortnightly. Great idea in theory, but it meant that if you had a big bin of empty bottles and cans (as often happens after my brother has friends around...) and especially if the next week was just a black bag collection and not a recycling collection, it would often just be put in the black bag bin.

Now, there are fewer bins - 'just' four - which is an improvement in lots of ways. Newly, we have a food waste bin, a mixed recycling bin, a bin for paper and cardboard, and a black bag bin. The food waste is collected weekly, and then the recycling and black bag waste alternate weeks. I bet the Council thought that was a great idea. But, again, there are a couple of issues, and most of them arise if you don't fit the stereotypical mould of a family household in a house with outside space.

Terraced houses, especially, often don't have a way to bring the big bins around the outside of the house from the back yard to the front for rubbish collection, and so the bins sit in front of the house looking untidy until collection day. We had this in my student house last year - it was either that, or drag smelly and untidy bins through the house (through the tiny lean-to where all of our clothes had to hang to dry) - no thanks! Plus, in very small spaces, it's incredibly difficult to try to keep more than a week's waste without it being an eyesore. In time, kitchen designs will move on to keep up - here in Germany, the mixed recycling is simply a special yellow bin bag which we keep by itself in the cupboard under the sink - and people won't build kitchens without any space in them for the bin (ahem, last year's landlord!).

What happens if you have to go away for work over your bin collection day, on a week for black bag waste? That means that by the time it's collected, some of it will have been sitting around for four weeks. Even if you rinse everything out before putting it in the bin, it's going to be a bit... fragrant.

A lot of councils' waste strategies seem currently to advise people to cope with this by taking excess waste to the tip - or, as they're now called, 'recycling centres.' Lots of these recycling centres, however, are at big out-of-town sites. Fair enough, but how are you meant to get your rubbish there without a car? I certainly wouldn't be very impressed if someone got on my bus with bags of rubbish to take to the tip, and I doubt they'd enjoy having to pay the bus fare. Since lots of councils have town- and city-centre offices and even depots, surely it would make sense for them to have a smaller recycling centre there?

Here in Germany, all four bins (black bag, food waste, general recycling, and paper) are collected weekly. Far more sensible, in my opinion! Oh, and there's not usually that much in the general recycling, because most drinks bottles can be taken back to where you bought them to get a bottle deposit (between 8 and 25 cents) back. It's a great system, I think - Google 'Pfand' for more information.

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