Birmingham City Council has failed to respond to a public appeal for improved recycling – over a year after it was made. In the wake of a Parliamentary vote on a radical new recycling bill and the publication of the Government's Waste White Paper, Birmingham Friends of the Earth has revealed that the city is once again lagging behind.

On the 23rd April last year Birmingham Friends of the Earth presented Council Leader Sir Albert Bore with a petition signed by hundreds of Birmingham residents calling for improvements to recycling services in the city, especially facilities for recycling plastics. The petition took the form of a "Message in a Bottle" – over 200 in fact – each one containing a personalised message from a concerned Birmingham resident asking for better recycling in Birmingham, and for the bottle to be recycled.

A year down the line and despite reminders Cllr Bore has failed to respond, in words or action.

Birmingham collects 450,000 tonnes of domestic waste each year and more than 90% goes to incineration. Despite pressure to meet existing government recycling targets and the fact that burning plastic releases dioxins and other poisonous gases into the air, the city seems to be unwilling to rethink its waste strategy. Birmingham's closest plastic recycling plant is Delleve in Stratford Upon Avon, which currently imports bottles for recycling from Belgium because local supply is insufficient.

Andy Pryke of Birmingham Friends of the Earth said:
"Birmingham's recycling record at the moment is pathetic in comparison to other cities in the UK. The people of Birmingham want and deserve a comprehensive kerbside recycling scheme, but instead of heeding the call the council is continuing to promote the polluting incinerator as the solution. Any democratic body should be responsive to the needs of its elective, not to those of big waste disposal companies like Onyx. After crushing losses in the recent local elections, Councillor Bore would do well to take this on board. We would also be very interested to know how Cllr Bore has disposed of the 200 plastic bottles sent to him by Birmingham residents."

The introduction of plastics recycling would clean up our air, create jobs and provide Birmingham with a forward-looking waste strategy.

Lee Clayton of Delleve Plastics said:
"The Government needs to wake up the fact that plastics will not go away. Delleve Plastics imported 19 million bottles from Holland and Belgium last year due to the short fall in UK supply. I wonder whether Cllr Bore would be happy for his neighbours to empty their rubbish into his back garden – because that is what Europe is doing to the UK. Birmingham has the benefit of a large plastics reprocessor on its doorstep. Other local authorities do not have this advantage and yet they still manage to recycle their plastics – why not Birmingham?"

Friends of the Earth supports the Doorstep Recycling Bill, calling for at least half of all household waste to be recycled by 2010 and a halt to new incinerator capacity until policies are in place to achieve higher recycling rates. In the meantime, members of the public can help by:

    • Buying products with less packaging
    • Reusing plastic packaging e.g. margarines tubs and carrier bags
    • Using existing recycling stations as much as possible
    • Campaigning for improved recycling facilities

Editor's Notes

(1) In November 2002 Joan Ruddock MP introduced a new Bill to Parliament to ensure that every household in England is supplied with doorstep recycling services, which was to be introduced in early 2003 and was backed by 383 MP's. Under new EU legislation the UK must ensure that less than a third of domestics waste goes to landfill by 2020, at present it is around 80%.

Regional household recycling rates in England 2000/01 by region:

South East 16.4 %
East 15.1%
South West 15 %
E Midlands 13.1 %
W Midlands 9 %
London 8.7 %
North West 7.8 %
Yorks/Hum 7.2 %
N East 4.1 %

(2) At present Birmingham City Council is locked into a contract with Tyseley incinerator until 2019 which it has made no effort to renegotiate.

(3) It has been argued that the 'environmental cost of transportation (of bottles) in trucks for example, would outweigh the environmental benefits of recycling', there is no scientific evidence of this and according to RECOUP, recycling at a local level is far better and does save energy. Bottles are light in weight so therefore save fuel and we can recycle at a local level with the co-operation of a local council. We have no other choice but the recycle plastics as if they are burnt they release toxic pollutants called dioxin and if buried take 500 years to bio-degrade Recycling bins which crush or chop the bottles reduce this (the transport problem) even further. Plus if bottles aren't recycled, the raw materials to make them need to be transported across the world!

(4) Birmingham currently recycles only 7.5% of its waste; Bournemouth manages three times this amount and also Bath manages to recycle 28% of its waste

(5) Recycling one bottle can save enough energy to keep a 60w light bulb lit for six hours.