Having bumped the previous holder North Kesteven that has held the top spot for the last two years into third place, East Lindsey in Lincolnshire at 58%, is currently the number one local authority for recycling.
This is quite an achievement for East Lindsey, a local council that had previously resided at number 95 in 2007 and 285 in 2006! What it shows is that where there is a committed local authority willing to work with the local community it is more than possible to improve recycling rates. In just two years East Lindsey jumped from recycling only 21 per cent of waste, or being in 285th place in the UK, to being number one, recycling 58 per cent of waste, and in doing so set a new high for UK recycling rates.
How did they do it?
According to Councillor Dick Edginton, the council's portfolio holder for amenities:
"Education has been at the heart of our approach to recycling. We have given recycling advice to thousands of families and attended many community events to encourage residents to come on board with this lifestyle changing project. We couldn't have wished for a better response. This is a great achievement for both residents and the council."
This tallies very much with North Kesteven who previously held the top spot. They put their high recycling rates down to working with the local community. In addition, North Kesteven make their recycling system simple and easy to follow and provide clear advice to local households as to what can be put into each bin. Although they collect green waste they encourage home composting.
Both top performing councils are in Lincolnshire. Both councils have in-house refuse collection. East Lindsey dramatically improved its performance when it dumped its external contractor and brought its refuse collection back in house.
Lincolnshire County Council is running a waste reduction campaign targetting over-packaging.
Contrast the top performing councils with one of the worst, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, which manages to recycle a pathetic 26%. This can be put down entirely to their head of environment David Quirk, his crass policies and his determination to alienate the local community, the very people whose involvement is essential if we are to achieve high recycling rates and reduced waste.
An example of the crass polices pushed by council jobsworth Quirk is for every household to be given a half-size wheelie bin. According to Quirk, give households a half-size bin and their rubbish halves! Policies that seem to emanate from a lunatic asylum. In a humiliating public climbdown, this policy may now have been scrapped!
When it was put to Quirk for a forthcoming Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary on waste handling that education was the way forward, he dismissed it out of hand. He was though very proud of a leaflet that has only just been produced. A tiny step in the right direction, but pathetic compared with what North Kesteven has been issuing to households for years. Quirk was also dismissive of glass being collected with other recyclables, preferring instead for glass to be put out in baskets to be picked up by local yobs. North Kesteven in part attribute their high performance due to the fact that glass can be put in the same recycling bin as other recycling waste such as card, paper and cans. To top it all, Quirk made the ludicrous statement that supermarkets were cutting down on waste which begged the obvious question: had he ever set foot in a supermarket?
There is though a problem with increased recycling rates. A problem that until recently when we were hit by recession was glossed over. We are being overwhelmed by a mountain of waste. Not just that which goes to landfill or incineration, but also that earmarked and sorted for recycling. The market for recycled material has collapsed. This is hardly surprising and the recession is not to blame.
The fault lies entirely with the government and local councils who were quick to punish the public with their arbitrary and often impractical recycling regimes, but have done nothing to create a market for the material that the public is willing to recycle. It is simple supply and demand. If you increase the supply without increasing the demand that market will collapse.
Households account for less than 10% of waste, and yet that is where all the effort has been directed. Households are simply at the end of the waste chain. With the possible exception of Lincolnshire County Council, little is being done to reduce excess packaging, little is being done to decrease the demand for tat. Indeed government policy with a reduction in VAT is designed to stimulate the demand for tat. Tat that flows from China, becomes clutter in our households for a few month, then becomes unwanted waste.
The problem with tat is not only the waste of materials, there is also a huge cost in embedded energy.
Or as David MacKay so eloquently puts it:
'One of the main sinks of energy in the "developed" world is the creation of stuff. In its natural life cycle, stuff passes through three stages. First, a new-born stuff is displayed in shiny packaging on a shelf in a shop. At this stage, stuff is called "goods". As soon as the stuff is taken home and sheds its packaging, it undergoes a transformation from "goods" to its second form, "clutter". The clutter lives with its owner for a period of months or years. During this period, the clutter is largely ignored by its owner, who is off at the shops buying more goods. Eventually, by a miracle of modern alchemy, the clutter is transformed into its final form, rubbish. To the untrained eye, it can be difficult to distinguish this "rubbish" from the highly desirable "good" that it used to be. Nonetheless, at this stage the discerning owner pays the dustman to transport the stuff away.'
Or as shown in the wonderful animation The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard:
Drink five cans of fizzy sweetened pop a day and that is an embedded energy of 6 kWh/day.
The average of our mainly food packaging is another 4 kWh/day.
Add another 2 kWh/day for unwanted junk mail and freebie newspapers.
We then have to transport this stuff around, 7 kWh/day for road transport, 4 kWh/day for sea transport for each and every one of us living in the UK.
If we take full account of all the imported tat, Britain's carbon footprint is nearly doubled from the official "11 tons CO2e per person" to about 21 tons. This implies that the biggest item in the average British person's energy footprint is the energy cost of making imported stuff.
Within 5 years, clothes have gone up from 7% to 30% of landfill, thanks to the 'Primark effect, that is cheap disposable clothes.
Many refuse collection services are now privatised. Will the taxpayer be forced to step in and bail them out as we did with the banks?
Reference and background
Lester R Brown, Plan B 2.0, Norton, 2006
Lester R. Brown, Throwaway economy in trouble, Earth Policy Institute, 30 November 2006
East Lindsey is officially No. 1 in the UK Charts!, press release, East Lindsey, 5 November 2008
East Lindsey take UK top spot for recycling, This is Lincolnshire, 11 November 2008
East Lindsey number one in UK for recycling, Louth Leader, 6 November 2008
East Lindsey residents are the UK's greenest, This is Grimsby, 6 November 2008
ELDC is number one in UK recycle chart, Boston Standard, 12 November 2008
Nick Ketteles, Designing for Destruction, The Ecologist, July/August 2008
David MacKay, Sustainable Energy, UIT Cambridge, 2009
Peter Marshall, Swap Don't Shop - Topshop, UK Indymedia, 30 November 2008
William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, North Point Press, 2002
Keith Parkins, Natural Capitalism, October 2000
Keith Parkins, Curitiba Designing a sustainable city, April 2006
Keith Parkins, Recycling a tale of two councils, UK Indymedia, 5 January 2007
Keith Parkins, Oxfam scandal, UK Indymedia, 9 April 2008
Keith Parkins, Rushmoor wheelie bin madness, UK Indymedia, 11 August 2008
Keith Parkins, Household rubbish less than ten per cent of waste, UK Indymedia, 21 August 2008
Keith Parkins, Rushmoor defends crass half-size wheelie bin policy, UK Indymedia, 1 September 2008
Keith Parkins, Waste, recycling and packaging, UK Indymedia, 8 September 2008
Keith Parkins, Sainsbury's greenwash, UK Indymedia, 30 September 2008
Keith Parkins, Disposable clothes, UK Indymedia, 27 December 2008
Keith Parkins, Beyond sustainability, to be published
Pylon, If The Economy Doesn't Shrink, We're Finished!, Indymedia UK, 31 December 2008
Keri Sutherland and Ian Gallagher, Recycling fiasco, Mail on Sunday, 4 January 2009
The recycling revolution - how we did it, East Lindsey, 2008