Go to any major town or city these days (and even some rural villages) and you will be confronted with a sea of litter. Not only is this unsightly, but it’s dangerous for wildlife, pets and children. Obviously the onus is on the person not to drop it. But once dropped on public land, it becomes the responsibility of councils to pick it up. Also see where to recycle everyday packaging and bits of yourself that you can recycle! Also read how to recycle aluminium cans & foil.
This post tells you where to recycle absolutely everything, before glass, paper, cardboard and plastic bottles (most councils also take plastic tops and Tetrapak milk and juice cartons, ask). Most supermarket bag bin also take plastic food packaging, aside from clingfilm, so collect up some and recycle, next time you’re passing. This list is for the UK. If you live in North America, Miss Minimalist has a great list of where to donate everything.
Can I Recycle This? is a guide to better recycling. The recycling rules seem to differ worldwide, and actually sometimes causes more confusion. This book takes readers on a quick tour of how recycling works, and gives answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. Plus it offers information on how to get rid of anything else you encounter. Jennie Romer has worked in US communities for years to create meaningful legislation to help communities better process and reduce their waste, and also helped author plastic bag bans in California and New York. A good birthday book for your town planner!
The Rubbish Book is a crowdfunded guide to recycling, by a sustainability expert. Where do you put bottle lids? Why can’t black plastic be recycled? What do you do with labels? This book answers all the questions, so you can become a true expert, and protect the planet with confidence. It includes an A to Z of household items and whether they can be recycled, and an in-depth look at the collection and sorting processes. Also with a breakdown of what recycling symbols mean, and an insight into the future of recycling.
Millions of items are dropped each day, mostly from fast-food packaging, sweet wrappers, drinks cans, bottles and cigarette butts (posties also accidentally drop elastic bands that harm hedgehogs in their millions, because Royal Mail won’t change their policies). Most of this litter does not biodegrade, and harms wildlife and also attracts rats.
In the US, they have an organisation called Keep America Beautiful, where volunteers go out and collect litter once a year, then report back what they found. They not only found tons of litter, but also found a cardboard box (saying ‘please recycle this box’), a disposable nappy full of fruit, an artificial limb and even live puppies (adopted to good homes).
It’s also a proven fact that towns with more trees and less litter, have less crime than towns with more litter and no trees (due to creating ‘placemaking’ where people want to look after their area). If they think people don’t care, they litter more. This punches a hole in the theory that ‘there is no point picking it up, because people will litter more’. In fact, this is not true. In communities where people have a zero waste tolerance to litter and pick up all litter, it’s been found that people don’t litter as much, as it’s more likely to stand out, and litter louts will be identified. Face masks and blue plastic gloves are two recent more litter finds.
Did you know there is now a new word? ‘Plogging’ (invented in Sweden) means jogging while stopping to pick up litter, as you go. Sign of the times.
So why is more not done? Obviously councils are busy and have budgets, but often parks and other areas go months, without anyone bothering to pick up the litter. This is not the fault of the hard-working people who are employed to pick litter, but of councils who are not organising themselves properly.
If you wonder what the metal items are on streets (looking like the insides of soda syphons), they are nitrous oxide containers, used to get people high from laughing gas. These are often inhaled through balloons, which are also littered, leading to killing wildlife. Most of the nitrous oxide containers are sold with balloons, so end up getting eaten by wildlife.
Your council is responsible for collecting litter on public land. For private land, they can serve Litter Abatement Orders if people refuse to act, if the litter is causing danger. Quote The Environmental Protection Act 1990, if no joy!
CleanupUK reports that councils also don’t act on highways. Many people who run the highways cut the grass before cleaning up the litter. So the machines just ‘spray litter everywhere’, instead of removing it.
One good idea (from a farmer, who is fed up of his animals accidentally ingesting litter) is to add registration numbers of cars onto fast food packs and receipts. Then (just like if you speed your car), you get an £80 littering fine through the post. Sounds harsh, but it would stop people chucking fast food out their windows, if they kept getting fined £80 every time they did it.
- Report litter to your local council. The odd piece of litter dropped today or yesterday may not be due to inefficiency. But if you see roads and parks strewn with litter with days, weeks or months on end, then yes someone needs to act. Also report to Fix My Street, where reports (and photos) are made public. This often forces councils to act, especially if many people complaint about the same area.
- If you see litter that has not been collected for a while, ask why. Bins should be emptied daily, and councils should employ enough staff to rid the streets of litter daily. There is enough money to do this, it’s a priority (the clean streets would bring in extra money through tourism).
- Bag Snaggers are wonderful inventions (a one-off investment from the US). These telescopic tools can safely remove bags from rivers (without you falling in) and bags snagged high up on trees. Garbo Grabber also makes a good litter pick-up tools including bags with reusable nets and collapsible reachers. The Helping Hand Company sells litter-grabbing tools along with reusable gloves and sharps boxes (to safely pick up needles). It also sells litter kits for children, ideal for volunteer groups.
- Ask your council to install more bins. Often people want to dispose of litter, but it’s miles to the nearest bin. Councils are often guilty of not collecting dog waste bins (or not installing them) if they are ‘out of the way’. People often forget dog poop bags, so the best stations include biodegradable bags so that if people forget, they can use one. It’s still cheaper than sending someone out to collect dog poop, which can cause blindness to pets and children.
- Many people want Royal Mail to be fined for littering too. They refuse to act on plastic bands. But again if they were fined £80 every time elastic bands were dropped on the pavement, they would soon change policy (not the fault of the posties, they can’t help dropping the odd band).
- Vote in councillors who do something about it. If you live in an area filled with old litter, why is your local councillor or MP not on the case? He or she must know the law, so should be badgering the local council to get something done immediately. If no joy, then vote in someone else next time.
If all the litter dropped in the UK was not dropped, this would save the taxpayer £1 billion a year. Choose what you would like this money to pay for instead (source: GD Environmental):
- Over 38,000 social care workers
- Run almost 4,500 libraries
- Pay for over 30,000 NHS nurses
- Pay for over 25,000 paramedics
- Fund over 30,000 extra firefighters
Where to Recycle It?
- Send used corks to Recorked
- It’s best to buy natural house paint. But you can donate unused tins to Community RePaint.
- Donate certain children’s items (must have safety kitemarks, many items like mattresses and car seats are not accepted, for safety).
- Donate art supplies, sports goods & musical instruments
- Wheelchairs/crutches to Wheels to Heal
- Donate specs and hearing aids to shops that sell them
- Donate office furniture
- Donate unwanted iPods to help dementia patients
- Donate a PC (help charities, wipe data)
- Donate old cars (charities can sell scrap metal)
- Donate bikes to refugees
- Donate boat sails to make into totes (don’t buy furnishings with sailcloth, flammable)
- Make sure fishing line recycling bins are bird-safe (don’t resemble nests).
- Used gum (with pet-toxic xylitol) can be prevented from littering pavements with a Gumdrop Bin.
- Donate oil to oil banks. Safely site oil tanks, surround with prickly vegetation to stop theft (leave 600mm around tank).
- You can recycle cartridges at Recycle 4 Charity (be sure to choose a local ethical charity that doesn’t use funds on animal testing or company cars).
The Japanese Town that Recycles Everything
If you get fed up with dealing with two or three recycling bins, think how it is for the residents of Kamikatsu, the town in Japan that recycles absolutely everything. As a result, the town is totally zero waste, and people make a concerted effort not to buy stuff they don’t need, or else they would have to spend all their spare time sorting it out for different bins, at end of use.
This town is so litter-free that it has more visitors each year than residents (1,5000 residents and 2000 visitors). All waste materials are composted or upcycled, there’s a ‘free’ second-hand shop so people can come and help themselves to other people’s donated items, and there is even a local building with discarded windows, where you can bring reusable bottles, to fill up with local craft beer. The 45 recycling categories include:
- Cans (aluminium, steel, aerosol, metal caps)
- Glass (clear, white, coloured, sake bottles)
- Light bulbs (3 types) plus broken ones
- Plastic trays & bottles
- Milk and juice packs
- Cardboard and newspaper and magazines
- Cigarette lighters
- Cooking oil
- White goods
- Food waste
- Garden waste
- Agricultural waste