Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Stop recycling the waste message


One of the many benefits of having a couple of weeks at home in the summer is that you get time to think about the domestic impact of big national vision statements.

In my particular case the issue that loomed large was waste and recycling.

Why, for instance, do retailers that are desperate to sell you a new carpet or any other household item put on expressions of theatrical astonishment when you ask if they will take away the old one?

A whole other brown envelope negotiation has to take place at a later date with the delivery people who for a steep fee ('landfill tax, darlin') will cart your rubbish off, hopefully to a registered tip though just as likely to an unofficial dump clogging up the swimming pool car park.

And, round my way at least, only rubbish in the wheelie bin is allowed into the back of the refuse lorry. Extraneous bags of tat are left on the street, according to the rather snippy lady at the council, 'to encourage you to recycle for the benefit of the environment, madam.'

Yes, Britain is burying itself under its own waste and yes we all know we should recycle; but will we, can we, and will it make enough of a difference?

The impression the average member of the public has of current UK waste policy is that, despite the pious statements, the main thrust is to raise cash or save cash for national and local government.

Hectoring top level announcements that we, the people, have to produce less waste and must recycle are not actually being met with many helpful or acceptable waste minimisation initiatives on the ground from either government or business.

Even a good idea like providing people with a variety of bins in which to separate recyclable waste can quickly come undone when refuse collections are cut from weekly to fortnightly to save money and maggots start crawling out of the bins in hot weather.

Most of us recycle where we can. But often this means cutting up carpets and loading them and the other festering rubbish into cars for repeat trips on congested roads to the same tip they would have been taken to by the bin men. Or waste is left to rot in the road or fly tips to nurture the country's exploding population of rodents.

This is not a sustainable waste strategy, however you look at it.

If politicians won't deal in realities, engineers have to help them. Rather than signing up to the myth that recycling is the answer to Britain's waste mountain, engineers need to tell the upcoming House of Commons environmental audit committee inquiry into 'Winning the war on Waste' that bigger, more difficult decisions need to be taken.

If we manage to recycle even 35% of our waste by 2020 that still leaves a mighty 65% to deal with. The options are to burn it or bury it. And at least if we burn it, it can be recycled as energy to help make up the predicted shortfall in power we face at the same time.

Incinerators are not popular;

but if the other choice is a nuclear power plant in the neighbourhood then burning our own waste to make our own power could - properly explained - become the popular, sustainable destination for the rubbish in everyone's bin.

Jackie Whitelaw is NCE's managing editor

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.