I had never been to the Household Recycling Centre in twenty five years of living in Birmingham.
This is because I don’t own a car, like tens of thousands of other Birmingham people. The trip took me two buses and a long walk to the site in Lifford Lane, which is operated by Veolia for Birmingham City Council. There were no other pedestrians and it is a long wait for cars. The facility is not “local” nor is it convenient. I was left wondering if the energy saved in recycling was being lost in all the car journeys.
There are about twenty separate waste streams you can contribute to: skips for soil, batteries, drinks cartons, clothing, fridges, etc. This confirms that Veolia do have a use and an outlet for almost every kind of waste. Therefore, recycling isn’t a technical problem; it’s an organisational problem. The site’s not laid out in an obvious way, but people who go there do try to separate their wastes. The inconvenience factor means that most people in the city don’t do this, and there’s no incentive to do it. Lifford Lane and the four similar sites are facilities, but together they don’t make a system.
Re-use is better than recycling, but I could see furniture, toys and other things in skips that could be re-used. We need something like the Re-useful Centre in Leamington Spa, and I understand there is to be a trial for this at the Sutton Coldfield site (Norris Way). Full details of Household Recycling Centres are on the Council’s website: www.birmingham.gov.uk
Given that Birmingham’s composting and recycling rate is 32%, the gap between the household waste that could be recycled and what is recycled is clearly immense. Bin bags and bulky waste are all incinerated in Birmingham at great cost. The new 60% target rate for Birmingham City Council will require a big change to the current wasteful system.
On street corners and in parks in Westminster I have seen “bring sites” – a cluster of bins that include plastic pots and drinks cartons. Even the street sweepers have their own recycling bins. Bristol has similar clusters of bins that people can walk to, as well as food waste collection and a range of materials collected from the door. The top local authority in the country has recently passed 70% recycled or composted, so we know how to do it. Blaming the public in Birmingham for not recycling is not good enough.
One Bin Bag
When you read this, I shall have met my target of producing just one bag of rubbish for the Council in 2012. This extreme recycling was done by rigorous separation of all the items that could rot, which were stored in a kitchen caddy until rotten, and then out to the compost bin in the garden. Cans and bottles went through the washing up and then out for the doorstep recycling collection, along with all paper and card. Plastic wrappings I rammed into pop bottles to save space. There was hardly anything left and there was no smell.
I think I have shown that making rubbish is fundamentally unnecessary, if the “putrescibles” are kept separate from the recyclable or reusable items. People have written to me saying they do something similar. This calls into question the £30 million a year spent by Birmingham City Council for waste disposal and the 282,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted from the Tyseley rubbish incinerator. Post-2018, I hope that Birmingham can become a recycling city, instead of a rubbish city.
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