Jan Etherington explains why recycling’s not just a load of old rubbish
MY husband is rubbish at recycling. He just about manages to put newspapers in the blue bin and twigs and leaves in the brown one, but that’s pretty much where his sorting skills end. Show him an empty food container, or a light bulb and there’s barely a pause before it’s lobbed into landfill – or the grey bin, as it’s known around here.
Collection day will often find me upended in the flip top, under the sink, like a woman possessed. I’m flinging items up in the air. “This is tin foil, you screw it up, tennis ball size! Like this and put it in the blue bin!” I yell. He rolls his eyes and says: “Don’t get so wound up! It’s not that important.” And proceeds to scrape eggshells into the very bin I’ve just cleared. “That’s food! It goes into the brown bin!” I’m headfirst into the flip top again, flicking out eggshell and halfchewed toast soldiers. I seriously consider putting him into landfill.
Forget infidelity, gambling and drink. I’m certain ‘recycling incompatibility’ is about to become one of the major grounds for divorce. “All over the world,” I tell him, “there are piles of rubbish, floating in the oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 1,000 miles off the coast of California, is hundreds of miles long.” “I’ve never, knowingly, thrown anything into the Pacific!” he insists. You see what I’m up against? But I plough on.
“Lots of stuff can be recycled and we can do our bit and even though it seems insignificant and unimportant –” “Every little helps – as they say in Tesco, Saxmundham?” he interrupts. He’s just not taking me seriously.
I show him a leaflet. It’s called Getting Your Recycling Right. “So which bin does that go in?” he says. But I’ve gone a bit quiet because what I’m reading is quite scary. How putting the wrong thing in your recycling bin can spoil a whole lorry load of recycling, be dangerous and unpleasant for the people who sort it, waste taxpayers’ money. I like our bin men. They’re cheerful, helpful and nice to dogs. I don’t want to be responsible for something nasty in the bins, that might hurt them. I must try harder. More importantly, so must my husband. I make him read the leaflet. “You’ve been talking garbage,” he says. “You can’t put polystyrene food packaging in the blue bin.” I snatch it back. Crikey, he’s right. I thought I knew it all but turns out I wouldn’t even get O-level Recycling.
I phone Suffolk County Council Recycling for advice and speak to a very helpful lady, who says I’m not alone and her husband “leaves stuff on the side for me to sort”. She explains that you can’t recycle the clear, plastic film on the top of food packaging. New info includes ‘wash, squash and put the top back on’ plastic bottles, and no items smaller than 4 cm, including bottle tops. But you can put shredded paper in the brown bin. “The main problem is that people don’t think they need to wash and dry items before they put them in recycling,” she says. “They may not know that, while a conveyor belt picks up metal items with a magnet and sets aside large paper sheets, the rest is sorted by hand. But don’t forget, you can take lots of things to your Recycling Centre.” Right!
Old printers, a microwave, broken garden chairs, unwanted wooden shelves and a vacuum cleaner that won’t suck. Off we went to Leiston Household Waste Recycling Centre one sunny morning. The only other person there was a neighbour, a seasoned tip-visitor, who claimed Leiston was tiny compared to Pakefield, the 02 Arena of waste sites. “You can make a day of it,” he said, “pick up some fish in Lowestoft, nip into M&S.” So I’ve been up in the loft, to find some more junk.
It is a wonderful feeling to empty the car of stuff you don’t want – and know that over 70% of it will be recycled. Even my husband is beginning to enjoy putting things in the right bins. As he staggered out, with an armful of flattened cardboard, I said: “So what do you think of it so far?” Guess what he answered . . .
Bin lady Jan Etherington sorts her (clean) plastics and paper