Inside story from a recycling plant

Inside story from a recycling plant

Wasting time

In part two of our green coverage, Paul Dale makes a visit to an Edinburgh recycling plant

Recycling – the bête noire of ill-informed bores who will tell you that all that plastic/glass/cardboard ‘just ends up dumped in the ocean anyway, so why bother?’ Let’s get a few things straight. Any rubbish you put in the correct recycling container already has a home to go to. Paper is taken to a paper mill at Kings Lynn, Norfolk where it is processed back in to newsprint. Tins and cans are taken to AbitibiBowater’s Middlesbrough transfer station for sorting. Aluminium cans are sent to Novelis in Warrington and steel cans are sent to Simms Metal Management at Hartlepool or TJ Thomson in Stockton where they are recycled back into new tins and cans. Glass is sent to Berrymans where it is sorted and made into new glass jars and bottles. Cardboard is sent to Stirling Fibre in Croy and textiles are transferred to the Salvation Army, who sell items through their shops, and Kettering Textiles in Northampton, where they are made into industrial cloths and fillers.

Since 2002 an EU directive has meant Scottish councils have had to pay HM Customs a landfill tax on waste that is disposed of in landfill sites. This is currently £48 a tonne, but the amount goes up significantly every year. In many cases it is cheaper to recycle – glass for example costs £6.50 per tonne.

Which all goes to show that by not recycling everything you possibly can, you are effectively throwing cash directly into the bin, and forcing your neighbour to do the same. For those who timidly ignore (or stupidly deny) climate change, maybe the idea of keeping a cap on council tax will be a greater incentive. Glasgow readers please take note, for you currently have the worst recycling record in Scotland and one of the worst in the UK.

OK, sorry, that was a long preamble, but ignorant misconceptions make my blood boil, especially when they overshadow the good work of places such as Edinburgh’s Community Recycling Centre (CRC). I visited the facility to find out how Edinburgh council intends to meet the Scottish parliament-set targets for the whole of Scotland of a complete recycling rate of 50% by 2013 and 70% by 2025.

It’s an uncharacteristically hot April afternoon and the fetid smells of Seafield Road’s sewage works are guiding me east along the old dock road out of Leith to Fillyside Road. From the 1970s until recently there was a tip here that acted as an unregulated overflow area for much of the capital’s rubbish. However, new regulation has forced things to change for the better, and the site is now a shining example of good recycling practice.

Members from the council’s environmental team greet me on arrival, hand me a high-visibility jacket, and take me to the environmental education cabin – a great space with information on the walls about recycling and even a pretend composter at the end of the room. I stick my hand in and pull out a plastic worm.

There are several council heads here today, not because of me but because they have just launched their ‘EDENburgh’ pro-recycling campaign. The project has put nine new refuse collection vehicles on the streets, all sporting recycling messages and calling out to residents to make the city ‘EDENburgh and not EdinbURGH’ (as in disgusting). The team are here to look at how they can entice more people to use the CRCs. One of their number, Ryan, gives me a tour of the centre.

Our first stop is the ReUse cabin, an area where recyclable goods and furniture are stored ready to be taken by the Bethany Trust charity. There are some great items in here – paintings, lovely old tables, chairs and all manner of hardware (fridges, TVs etc) – it’s a total redress to our obsession with the new. Next we move on to a huge series of skips – one for garden waste, one for plastic machinery, one for non-recyclable goods (which we watch get compacted by the crusher to go to landfill) and so on. Whatever can be recycled is being recycled right here.

Ryan and his team are aware that it will take a mighty sea change to alter most adults’ beliefs that they can dump what they want where they want whenever they want. Hope comes in the form of the children who come on educational days to the centre and go home imploring their parents to be better citizens. As a parting gesture I ask him if maybe it is time to implement some serious legislation against non-recyclers. He thinks that will throw up all kind of personal infringement issues but it may one day be the only solution to public apathy on recycling. We could all do worse than getting stuck in to sorting some unsavoury rubbish. After all, where there’s muck there’s brass.

Waste Awareness Day, Seafield CRC, Sat 8 May, 11am–3pm. Compost Awareness Week, Sun 2–Sat 8 May. Pass It On Day, Sat 5 Jun.