A Rubbish Service TV programme on ITV1

Filed in Blog by on September 8, 2008 19 Comments
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indias landfill full of british rubbish

Did you see it? If you didn’t please go back to ITV.com and log on to view. It’s well worth a watch.

The investigations that were revealed were something Mr Green had been onto for a while. He had some information, but we’d decided to hold back from writing anything. But now with the ITV airing a programme for public view, it’s time to rethink what we are doing.

For those of you who have not yet watched the programme, Mark Jordan investigated the British recycling system. His concern was that while British householders are being fined more for failing to sort their rubbish than people caught shoplifting, some Local Authorities were operating seriously flawed waste collection systems.

Something Mr Green had learned over the past couple of weeks was the COLLECTION of recycling and RECYCLING itself are two different things. Local Authority recycling targets are indicated by collection, and not with what happens to those materials.

However, it is illegal for Local Authorities to send unsorted rubbish for export. This law is in place to protect developing countries and the environment.

In the programme, which, incidentally had me in tears and ashamed to live in the so-called developed world, Mark Jordan travelled 5000 miles to India. There he visited farming land on the border of National Parks and discovered waste dumped in the land and in wells. He found 10 dumps within a mile of each other, and digging 4 feet down into the soil found Walkers Crisps packets, Sainsburys apple juice cartons and English newspapers with last years date on them.

According to one local, every year, India takes receipt of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of unsorted waste from the UK and the US.

Mixing your recyclables in the UK can lead to hefty fines, but the same rules don’t seem to apply to the person who exports it to third world countries if they can get away with it. As one Indian Man, who has been studying rubbish for the past ten years so eloquently put it; ” They’re shipping out their garbage and their responsibility.”
In this country, we are fined for fly-tipping, yet it’s ok to take our unsorted rubbish and dump it on India’s land. Anything not fit for recycling is termed hazardous waste over here, so we bury our heads in the sand and our rubbish in the National parks of India.

Local Authorities surely have a duty of care to RECYCLE householder’s waste once they have gone to the trouble of sorting it, yet an astonishing 35% of local authorities could not provide names and details of recycling plants. That means, once they have sorted it (and thus fulfilled the tick in the box for recycling targets) they don’t know what happens to it.

We’re all dutifully doing our bit, as householders, and from what we see on this site, people are WILLING and WANT to recycle as much as they can. But now we ask – why bother if the council don’t know or care what is happening to it?

I don’t know what the answer is, I really don’t. At the moment I feel despondent about the entire thing. For the past 3 months we’ve poured our heart and soul into this site and finding information to empower others. We achieved our zero waste week, but the revelations in tonight’s programme almost feel like a complete mockery of all we have worked towards.

Mark Jordan seemed to indicate that we should continue recycling, but at the same time demand answers from our Local Authorities. I asked my Local Authority over 2 weeks ago exactly what happened to my recycling and I am yet to get a response to my query…….

It feels like a grieving process – at the moment there are tears, disbelief and shock. But later will come the anger, and I guess that is a great motivator for real change.

What about you – how did you feel after watching the programme?

At the moment I would still say continue recycling, because for the 35% of local authorities that didn’t know what happened to their sorted rubbish, I’ll assume that the remaining 65% do. But we need change don’t we? Radical change and it starts with tranparency from our local authorities so that faith can be restored.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (19)

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  1. Mr Green says:

    Having read the WRAP report and spoken to people in the BPF, who confirm that this kind of “relief tipping” goes on, I am sure that it’s time we move forward and make our feelings know in a stong and concise manner.

    I have 2 articles that I have not released because they are somewhat controversial, but now I’m seeing that maybe they should be published here. You may also be interested in the article Don’t Throw it Away! on this site that outlines some of these issues.

  2. A great summary Mrs G and I know how you feel. This to me seems like a bunch of careless money grabbing louts spoiling it for the rest of us.

    What this programme has done, is push the agenda to a higher level and gives society another reason to think about what is happen to their waste. And whether it’s landfill or residual waste, what a shocking reminder that there is no such place as away.

    This will give some people an excuse to say stuff it and just throw everything back in the rubbish bin, but equally it gives some councils the shake-up that’s needed to prove themselves to residents that they are treating the situation responsibly and to be held to account.

    What I hope doesn’t happen is that councils use it to fuel their arguments for incinerators, because there-in lies the question and no doubt one which will be used over whether it is better to suffer illegal exportation of unsorted waste to be fly-tipped in India, or would incineration keep it in our control….you can see it coming can’t you?

    What I want to know is who were the people who dumped that rubbish in India and who the hell it was who authorised it.

  3. Ailbhe Leamy says:

    Sorry, I thought everyone knew this happened to at least SOME of the “recycling” we leave out for collection.

  4. Hi Mrs Green,

    This shows the value of Zero Waste above other factors. If we produce no waste how can they mess it up? Recycling is a worry since the facilities here are inadequate to provide full cycle use of PET, HDPE. These should arrive in time. We will probably have to show patience.

  5. Mr Green says:

    Here is another article called How millions of tons of household rubbish collected for recycling disappears without a trace from the Daily Mail By STEVE DOUGHTY on 5th September 2008. We saw this during our Zero wast week and decided not to feature it here as it was a bit of ‘downer’ on what we were doing. Here is a snippet of the story;

    Millions of tons of rubbish carefully sorted into recycling bins by householders may never actually be recycled, town hall chiefs admitted.

    Many of the council bosses who impose compulsory recycling regimes on their residents have no idea what happens to the refuse after the dustcarts have collected it.

    They simply hand it over to contractors who never reveal where it goes and how it is disposed of.

  6. Peter says:

    I sense your despair. And empathise.

    What seems amazing is that this still can be exposed, in this way, some 3 years after the Grosvenor story by the BBC:


    Something does need to be done, but it’s hard to think of what when we no longer have any accountability left across the board, especially in public service.

    How can I vote out those responsible when I can’t pin them down? And even if a person is caught bang to rights there will be no career or financial consequence. Yet a Mail-reading OAP will only know they can be fined or jailed for leaving out an extra cabbage leaf. The system is beyond parody and almost wilful in ignoring the affect all this is having on the public mood.

    Sadly the major media are usually no help. With all due deference to this ITV expose, the main aim seems to be to crank a rating and move on with little by way of solution or proactive suggestion.

    As to commenting online Mr Green, I have to hope that the numbers are too small to matter and the effort too much to bother for any deliberate censorship to be taking place. I suspect that it is technical, if no less frustrating.

    The new BBC site works well, if being heavily moderated. Guardian, too. The Indy is not bad at all. The Telegraph is OK. But as to the Times and Mail… I have no clue what is going on.

    I have posted often on both and once in a blue moon one ‘sticks’ . The rest of the time, despite a confirmation, they jut vanish.

  7. Hi Peter,

    What is your view on Zero Waste, particularly with the rising Council/Zero Waste enthusiast cooperation? I think this is something all householders should strive for.

  8. maisie says:

    I have just sent an email to my District Council asking the very questions posed on the programme.

    What does happen to my “mixed” recycled waste that is collected in one big wheelie bin.

    At the local Recycling Facility there is a big board stating that as a district we recycle 71% of our rubbish so I have asked if it could also be possible to promote this facility as District Council literature is giving contradictory information to that of the County Council who run the Facility; by stsing that certain items should go in landfill bins when they can be recycled at this facility.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Mrs A – over on the other post (we really should try and amalgamate them) a newcomer to the site, David Hall, points out the same concern as you; about this becoming fodder for the incineration argument. Somehow, recycling has to be made more attractive to businesses in the UK than incineration.

    John, interestingly, I have felt for many years that recycling is NOT the answer and NO waste **is** the answer; but how on earth to attain that? Our recycling has increased since our zero waste challenge, so the next step might be a real challenge………..

    Hi Peter – good to see you and thank you for sharing your thoughts here. Thank you for bring the Grosvenor story to my awareness; I had not seen it. You’re so right with your line “How can I vote out those responsible when I can’t pin them down?” I was shouting at the programme – “Name and shame those responsible!” Why protect them? If we were fined for not sorting our waste our names would be splashed across the tabloids!

    Well done Maisie – I think we might open up a thread for people to leave responses they get from their councils. What do others think; would this become a useful resource if we state what council we have received replies from and what was said?

  10. Hi Mrs Green,

    No Waste is a perfect answer. I think sustainable practices are the nearest we can get to that. Plastics will be part of that system once full cycle is established. It will take time but our efforts, including Council support, are a great contribution to this future perfect.

  11. aspidermonkey says:

    i’ve just watched the program online. I’ve emailed my council (cambridgeshire) to see if they can provide me with information. Will take it up with local newspapers if not.

    how sad. For me, it underscores the need to reduce my consumption (and hence waste) first.

  12. maisie says:

    I totally agree that the recycling waste has increased which is why I have been looking at not only zero waste in the landfill bin but also the waste we as a family produce as a whole.

    My council was East Lindsey District, although the Recycling Facility is run by Lincolnshire County.

    When I first started my rubbishlog it was great to see less going into the landfill bin but ultimately more was going into the recycling bin which was still waste.
    Obviously certain things will never be able to be completely waste free, but at least if they are in totally sustainable packaging which is totally recyclable and recycled then it will all help in the long run.

    My next step once the dust has settled after next weekend, will be to see what can be eliminated from the recycling bin as well, although I’ve a feeling that not alot will at the moment as it is mostly cans,plastic bottles and glass which is taken to the bottle bank; and alot of these things contain the very food products we use and which can’t be bought in an unpackaged form, eg beer, wine just for starters

  13. jen cleanbin says:

    I was so sad when I read this. I knew that not everything we try to recycle may actually get recycled (sometimes even municipalities can’t find buyers), but sending trash to other countries is simply unacceptable. Each country should have to be responsible for their own waste, and dumping it in the back yards of those less fortunate is enough to make you cry.

  14. Peter says:

    Comment by John Costigane on September 9, 2008 @ 11:21 am
    What is your view on Zero Waste, particularly with the rising Council/Zero Waste enthusiast cooperation? I think this is something all householders should strive for.

    Dear John,

    Oo-er, talk about being pinned down!

    Having only just come back I just wanted to acknowledge your question and that I was not blanking away.

    Simplistically, and without inviting flames, I frankly suspect in a modern, consumer-driven society with economic imperatives and growing (or at least not getting any smaller) populations to satisfy (optional) and feed (necessary), that some waste is inevitable.

    From what I have stumbled across, even some packaging may be necessary, if not ‘better’ for the environment. It’s all part of a much bigger, very complex picture that’s hard to get into here. I have some attempts at understanding the options and factors on site/blog if you are interested. I have also come across certain insights that can expand one’s thinking. For instance, such as Fred Pearce have convinced me that… in some cases… exporting waste can make sense… in comparison to the viable alternatives. However, by no means in the manner we have seen in these shows.

    Taking this issue in isolation, if not miniature (it’s pretty huge), what seems very evident that if we do ‘need’ packaging in the ways and levels we have currently, the ground to ground (dig it up, make it, ship it, sell it, collect it, ‘deal’ with it) systems in mitigation are still woeful.

    If we are to accept waste happens, it seems astounding that the consumer is copping the flak when the government, LAs, quangos, manufacturers and retailers simply still having nothing coherent in place.. still… after years and bazillions in funding to help us help them deal with it to any sane ROI or envROI.

    I, of course, Mandy Rice Davis-wise, continue to advocate reuse after reduction:)

  15. Hi Peter,

    Have we met at Chris’s blog?

    Zero Waste enthusiasts, with Councils support, are helping to reduce waste in the home. Make no mistake, this will become a national campaign. Our attitude is to take full responsibility for our waste.

    Can you say the same for superstores? I find they are dodging responsibility for their waste by blaming councils, consumers etc? They must accept that they need to change to fit in with this attack on waste.

    I totally disagree with your view that this waste packaging is necessary. What we need is ZeroWastePackaging, ie no chain of waste but a sustainable cycle. It will not happen overnight but that is the future. The sooner you, and the rest, accept this the better. Meanwhile I, and other consumers will do what has to be done.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Peter / John,

    I would agree that without a radical shift in our lifestyles, some waste is inevitable. But I think that waste minimisation – if, for example John, every household across the country produced as little waste as you – would be great and would probably solve landfill / incineration issues.

    My understanding too is that **at the moment** (and this is the key here) exporting is the better option in **some cases**, but I’m hoping that if the public show that they want more recycling facilities in the UK, which will be shown by everyone getting on board with kerbside collections and bring banks; then this will happen in time. Of course economic incentive has to drive this too………

    We also need things to be done in a more reverent and respectful manner, rather than simply dumping our garbage and our responsibility into someone else’s land.

    John, consumer demand will drive the manufacturer’s to produce what we want; packaging and all. I always maintain that we have a choice; we just need to exercise it more – and it takes a critical mass of like-minded people to achieve this.

  17. Hi Mrs Green,

    I fear we have to lead the change, since there is inertia further up the chain. You are absolutely right, we are few so far but as you have already seen the newcomers are just as keen as we are, so the numbers will rise. How quickly this will happen is open to debate.

    There will be resistance to this trend and we should watch out for setbacks.

    Recycling is imperfect but things will improve as better facilities become available. There is always something positive happening and Kristal is helping me clear a bag of lids I was holding for a home landfill kit. I may have to start using these bottles again to give her more material, as you had already said.

  18. Peter says:

    Dear John,

    I am unsure of which Chris to which you refer; so I can’t say.

    As to the rest, while there are aspects we can certainly agree upon, there would appear to be areas we will need to agree to disagree. Or maybe you did not quite understand what I wrote, and hence accord to me views I do not have; perhaps my failure to articulate them well. I see only certain packaging as part of a more environmentally effective overall carbon reduction chain, but whilst all excesses need to be minimised and ultimately removed also find certain blanket ban calls to be counter-productive to reducing total waste (esp: much in food) and Co2 emissions.

    I applaud any effort to live and lead and inspire by example, and credit those who take this course. But when it comes to me, ‘and the rest’, being told that we need to accept certain views and ‘doing what must be done’ (which frankly conveys in print without benefit of tone of voice rather ominous connotations) I am less convinced of the persuasive effect, especially with those who I am keener to reach out to and persuade to engage in environmentally positive behaviours.

  19. Hi Peter,

    I mistook you for an adversary on Christine Jeavans blog on BBC News.
    We currently have a chain of waste system where waste will accumulate from now until the end of time, if left unchallenged.

    What we advocate is for consumers/householders to take full responsibility for their waste. This means largely avoiding plastic packaging waste. We have achieved this, as you can see from Mrs Green and family’s Zero Waste Week success.

    Do you not see the value in this, forgetting problems for others further up the chain?

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