If you go to Holborn in central London you will see banners on street lamps proudly proclaiming ‘inmidtown, Zero to Landfill’. This statement is misleading because it gives the impression that somehow all the waste produced from the offices, shops, restaurants, bars, and curbside litter bins in this zone is recycled, thereby avoiding landfill. While it all sounds very positive, only members of inmidtown – a Business Improvement District and membership organisation – can actually boast of being a zero waste to landfill business. That’s just 560 businesses spread out over Holborn, St Giles, and Bloomsbury – a sizable commercial zone.
The recycling services provided by inmidtown represent an ideal of commercial waste recycling - 90% of commingled recycling collected from offices is recycled. Electrical and other waste is also collected, saving members at least 10% of market cost. And collections are tailored to suit the needs of each business. However, these recycling services are likely to be more expensive, if only 560 businesses have signed up to date. And as we regularly discuss here at waste AM, (most) businesses aren’t interested if it hurts the bottom line.
Take the place I work, which currently uses inholborn (the recycling scheme run by inmidtown). Each recycling bag costs 75p and one bag of recycling is used each day and a half. Six months’ worth of recycling has been calculated to cost around £120. To me that doesn’t sound too much. Yet it must be, because the bosses have decided they won’t pay. Instead, a committed recycler and staff member has been fundraising among the staff in order to provide recycling and ‘alleviate landfill suffering’. So the cost of diverting from landfill is passed on to staff and not the business.
I find this peculiar and did not feel inclined to contribute. Although I do think that recycling is a ‘worthy’ activity and each of us should do what we can, I don’t view recycling as a charitable cause. I view it as an overhead of the business. (I also wondered whether the campaign would have been better served as a petition from the staff to the bosses requesting they fund the recycling?)
Sometimes I feel like I can’t give any more to this issue. While I take responsibility for my own actions, I cannot ‘save’ all the waste out there. I can do all in my power to consume less as an individual. I can carry on writing about wastefulness etc. which is itself a kind of campaign, though probably one that only reaches people already doing their best to waste less.
My mother used to be among the 6% of householders who admit to not recycling and was totally unaffected by the leafletting and doorstopping attempts made by Southwark recycling outreach team to encourage her to recycle. She was even proud of her non-recycling status. She made a joke of being the only one left on the street who didn’t recycle.
But she has come in from the wilderness.
Southwark Council has a new recycling system in operation in her street. Houses get a blue recycling wheelie bin (same size as black wheelie bin for normal rubbish); and a food waste caddy.
The normal garbage collection is fortnightly whereas the mixed recycling, food waste and garden waste collection occurs weekly.
The new system has led to a proliferation of bins. Okay, so she isn’t using the food waste caddy, which she thinks is dirty – it has become a handy dog food container – and she is only recycling cardboard and paper and other clean recyclables at the moment, but it is progress nonetheless.
Two factors have influenced her to start recycling:
The neighbours recycle now, and more than this, lightly challenge her about not recycling. They speak about recycling as if it were easy and no hassle whatsoever. While official recycling outreach initiatives had no effect the opinions of the neighbours has had the effect of normalising recycling as an everyday behaviour. I did not observe any of the neighbours talking about the new scheme as if it were extra hassle – even though they most certainly do have the option of recycling more than they ever did before as a consequence of the introduction of the new food waste collection.
The new recycling bin is very visible and it is just as big as the bin for non-recyclables, which she used to use for all trash. It is a very big thing to leave empty and unused outside of one’s house. The dustmen would also be likely to think it queer that it was never used; and perhaps my mum would feel embarrassed about it. So in other words, the permanent physical manifestation of the recycling bin right outside her house has made her pay more heed to the act of recycling, which can no longer be ignored.
The expansion of Southwark’s food waste pilot scheme coincides with a new recycling poster campaign titled Let’s Recycle More Together, for which I participated in a focus group organised by the Southwark Council’s recycling outreach team. The campaign message that recycling is group activity is borne out in my mum’s conversion to recycling. Now all her neighbours are doing it – now that practically everyone seems to be doing it – it seems petty to hold out and not recycle. Making recycling a group activity makes it easier to capitulate and abandon one’s stubborness.
Today I celebrate my one year anniversary of living in whiffy garbage heaven.
Its malodorous content radiates fried chicken grease with a hint of pongy rotten vegetable matter. It’s 29 degrees Celsius; close your eyes, inhale the sweet aroma of household waste, gently fermenting. Absolutely nothing is recycled here; we like the bin to be full and stinky and we only empty it every eight or nine days! Sometimes we like to leave it in the hallway for four days before chucking it; that way it bids you the most pungent olfactory greeting imaginable.
When I moved in September 2010 I broached the bin issue: was it erm, always full? Oh right I see you work a lot and you don’t know how to recycle. Okay. Well this is recycling receptacle – holds it aloft and spins it around – and inside you can put in anything that can be RE-CY-CLED. Things like newspapers (they are made of paper so they can be recycled). And cans when you have had a soft drink. And glass bottles. These things can be recycled.
If you put a clean recyclable thing in the recycling receptacle I will take it down for you, so no need to worry if you don’t have the time, because you work a lot, don’t you. I will take it down for you. It’s really easy, anyone can do it. That should mean we won’t have to take the bin down so frequently too.
The thing is, it didn’t really work out that way.
After a spell of pulling up the slack: recycling where possible, taking the bin out when it was full and before it got smelly, nothing had changed and I found I couldn’t take it anymore.
I had to stop rescuing cereal boxes from other people’s garbage; I was twenty five – I had a life to lead.
It wasn’t healthy to cry a plastic tear every time I looked at our household landfill site. I elected to opt out.
So I became the apathetic womble of Old Street. A creature with strange rubbish collecting and sorting habits conducted in the privacy of the bathroom.