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Debunking the confusing world of recycling

Updated: Oct 4, 2018

I confess that my planned visit to a recycling centre for pleasure has led in recent weeks to me receiving a lot of stick from my mates, comments such as – “You know how to live!” – and my favourite – “living the rock and roll lifestyle Paula” have been prevalent!

To be honest, had I not been the one to trek (to be dramatic) over to Peckham then I probably would have been one of those mocking mates! However, as soon as I arrived at Southwark Recycling Centre and was taken to the education area, complete with interactive games, I realised that the visit would be educational and fun (yes the combo that parents often ‘insist’ is the case when you are a child).

So, after participating in several quizzes and games (for blog writing purposes of course), a motley crew of high-vis Sustainable Merton followers were given the guided tour of how glass, plastic, aluminium, steel, and paper is separated and eventually rebundled and sold on for reuse.

Prepare for some education...

  • Merton's current recycling rate is just 37%, with 172,000 tonnes of dry waste still ending up in landfill.

  • Merton has committed that by 2019 it will increase its recycle rate to 45 tonnes a year. The borough aims to achieve this through a series of educational awareness programmes alongside changing the landfill collection from weekly to fortnightly, whilst maintaining its weekly food wastage collection (a recent pilot showed an increase in food wastage recycling by extending the landfill collection).

  • Apartment recycling is notoriously low with bins often contaminated with non recyclables. In an effort to address this and with the knowledge that by 2030 46 percent of all London households will be flats, Resource London and Peabody Estates have commenced a research programme with a series of inner London flat blocks to understand barriers to recycling.


Debunking the confusing world of recycling…

Let’s be honest, most people do not have the time or inclination (manufacturers take note) to review recycling labels and then proceed to google (other search engines are available) what the symbols actually mean, so it was great to hear some simple tips:

  • Don’t use carrier bags or bin liners for your recyclables, these materials get caught on the recycling machines, with many centres not having the technology to access the recyclable materials inside the bags. So in future just empty the items into your crate/ straight into the communal recycling bins.

  • Cellophane is not recyclable so when you have that sinful ready meal (we all know it happens) remove it before placing the plastic tray in your recycling.

  • Plastic bottles and lids are typically made from different materials so after glugging it back, separate the lid from the bottle when adding it to your recycling collection.

  • What plastic can be accepted for recycling is ever widening, so if in doubt place it in your recycling bin.

  • Nappies are not recyclable (one common source of contamination are these being chucked in recycling bins) and with on average 6,000 nappies per baby being used from birth to potty training the benefits to waste reduction and to your purse in using washable nappies are considerable.


Reflection time…

Watching all the different types of machines work their magic (with the help of many humans) was a true testament to our ingenuity – I just wish we could extend that to encourage a mass step change – reducing and reusing at a rate that surpasses landfill. With the volatility of recyclable materials often making single use materials cheaper for manufacturers to produce will we get to a stage quick enough to realise that the environment is worth more than money? As ever I will keep my fingers crossed for humankind.

Paula Cottrell

Community Champion


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