Birmingham demands better recycling

At 9am, Tuesday 23rd April, Birmingham Friends of the Earth will present Cllr Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, with a very visual petition: an enormous pile of messages in plastic bottles from the people of Birmingham, calling for better recycling services.

Cllr Bore will also be presented with a fleece hat, made from recycled plastic, to keep him warm on his next skiing expedition – in token of Birmingham Friends of the Earth's best wishes for the quick recovery of his broken leg, sustained on a recent skiing holiday, as well as to show him what can be done with used plastic.

Birmingham currently recycles only 7.5 per cent of its domestic waste, [1] whereas other councils manage around three times as much, for example Bournemouth 30 per cent, Bath & North East Somerset 28 per cent, and Dorset County 27 per cent. [2]

The petition, launched by Birmingham Friends of the Earth, is demanding that the council introduce a proper doorstep recycling system, where items are sorted out at the kerbside, resulting in high quality materials and clean jobs. Birmingham's recycling policy is currently crippled by the council's highly expensive contract with the Tyseley incinerator company.

Andy Pryke, recycling campaigner at Birmingham Friends of the Earth said:


"We chose the plastic bottle as a symbol of just how bad things are in Birmingham. More than half the councils in the UK provide plastic recycling, [3] including rural councils like Dorset. If they can do it, then why can't we? Birmingham needs to radically improve its performance if we're to hold our heads up as a European city, and that will require strong political leadership."

Lee Clayton of Delleve Plastics [4] in Stratford Upon Avon said:

"There's a definite market for recycled plastic in the UK. We import lots of our plastic for recycling from as far away as Belgium! It would make much more environmental and economic sense if we could get it from Birmingham, which is right on our doorstep."

The vast majority of Birmingham's waste is burnt in the Tyseley incinerator. Birmingham collects 450,000 tonnes of domestic waste each year, but has signed a contract to deliver well over 90 per cent of it to the company running Tyseley Incinerator (TWD). This means it is burnt or buried rather than recycled. Government inspectors have severely criticised the financial cost to the city, and the overall costs are rising. [10]

Meanwhile burning plastic leads to pollution, [5] and wastes energy and resources. Recycling also generates more jobs than incineration.

Andrew Simmons from Recoup said:

"Recycling plastic makes environmental sense – one recycled bottle can save enough energy to keep a 60W light bulb lit for 6 hours [6] and provides opportunities for sustainable economic development. In the UK we spend around £45 million a year collecting and disposing of plastic bottles to landfill. By better allocation of this existing funding we could develop a much higher level of efficient plastics recycling throughout the UK."

In order to solve Birmingham's waste problems we need a comprehensive doorstep recycling service. We're calling on people to quiz their councillors by sending them messages in plastic bottles asking for better recycling.

Editor's Notes

[1] Birmingham City Council Best Value review, figures for 2000/2001.

[2] Audit Commission Performance Indicators for Bournemouth in 1999/2000. Bath & North East Somerset Recycling Plan, figures for 2000/2001. Waste Statistics for 2000/2001, Dorset County Council website (as from July 2005).

[3] Recoup survey of UK local authorities, 2002. See

[4] Delleve, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, recycle plastic bottles – many of which are imported from Belgium – and make land drainage pipes from the recycled plastic: 01789 740102;

[5] Tyeseley Incinerator output 160,000,000 piccogrammes of Dioxins in the year 2000 (Environment Agency Pollution Inventory). The Government Committee on Toxicity states that people should not be exposed to more than two picogrammes of dioxin per kilogramme of body weight per day. (1 picogramme = 1 thousandth of a billionth of 1 gramme).

[6] Recoup figures.

[7] Patagonia, 01629 583800,

[8] Recoup Fact sheet. See

[9] Linpac Environmental, Long Acre, Birmingham. Source – Recoup Fact Sheet.

[10] Birmingham City Council, Information Briefing for Cabinet 14 January 2002.

Questions and Answers

What can you recycle plastic bottles into?
Just about anything! Berghaus make fleeces, Patagonia[7] make high quality fleece gloves, hats, cardigans and even baby clothes from recycled plastic. Delleve make plastic pipes and supply plastic flakes to other manufacturers. Other companies make watering cans, fences, street signs, rulers and even children's adventure playgrounds[8]. A Birmingham firm, Linpac Environmental [9] make kerbside recycling collection boxes.

What do you expect the council to do with the bottles?
The council should respond to the people who have sent them messages, and then recycle the bottles. We'll also pass on a list of the 238 other councils which do recycle plastic, just in case Birmingham City Council need any help or advice.

What about the transportation of plastic for recycling?
Obviously, it's better to recycle as locally as possible, but because recycling saves so much energy, it can be worthwhile transporting it long distances. With local plastic recycling plants having to import
from abroad, it certainly makes economic and environmental sense to recycle.

Aren't plastic bottles too bulky to recycle?
Because plastic bottles trap a lot of air, they help fill up normal "rubbish trucks" so they have to go back to base more often. Separating out the plastics prevents this, and new crushing machines can reduce volumes. It's also worth noting that the people of Birmingham already pay for the collection of plastic bottles – but we don't get money back by selling them on for recycling.

Doesn't the incinerator generate energy by burning bottles?
It generates more energy than dumping the bottles, but much less than would be saved by recycling them. What's more, it releases poisonous fumes into the air. Recycling plastic bottles uses eight times less energy than producing new plastic. If plastic is burnt, then new plastic has to be made, which means importing oil from halfway across the world, leading to yet more pollution.