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Morland Sanders and Karen Cannard investigate Britain's rubbish for C4 Dispatches

Morland Sanders and Karen Cannard investigate Britain's rubbish for C4 Dispatches

Oh heady days!

I’ve just finished watching last nights episode of Dispatches where the wonderwoman of zero waste herself, Mrs Average (Karen Cannard) of the Rubbish Diet, challenged a Mum of four to live without her landfill bin for 2 weeks!

And if that’s not enough to get me excited, I have 50 minutes to write this up before Karen shares a set of headphones with Liz Godwin (CEO of WRAP) and Bob Gordon (Head of Environment at the British Retail Consortium) to discuss our favourite topic; waste and recycling; over on Radio 4s Woman’s Hour.

Last night’s Dispatches began with the startling information that we’re dumping 44 million tonnes of rubbish in landfill every year. People across the island are ‘battling’ with their local councils over heinous crimes such as positions of wheelie bins, confiscated bins and the fact councils seldom actually take the law into their hands regarding fly tippers…

In one example a business woman was cautioned for giving away cardboard boxes to customers. Apparently one of the boxes she donated had been “illegally dumped” and the business owner was summoned to court under the environmental protection act for giving waste material to someone who didn’t have a license to handle it. The case cost her £10,000 to defend herself and the judge stated the case was “a monumentous waste of time and money”.

I should say!

While Mrs A helped our family of 5 reduce their weekly landfill waste from 13kg to 6kgs, other householders were exclaiming frustration and confusion over what they could and could not recycle. When Dispatches called one council to ask about local recycling information, they were told things that were contradictory to the information available on their website…If the councils don’t know, how can we expect the householders to know? .

The programme highlighted serious concerns over the favoured method of recycling – co-mingled collections. Charles, CEO of Resource Media (I think, I was trying to pack a school lunch while watching the programme I’m afraid) told us many Local Authorities don’t know where material they’ve collected is ending up or even if it’s being recycled and we were shown how figures could be adjusted to make our recycling rates seem favourable.

To begin with recycling plants estimated the only up to 4% of the materials they received through co-mingled collections were rejects (ie non recyclable materials). However the Environment Agency estimated it was 11%.

Once these materials were sorted, bailed and sent to end processors, a further 15-20% could be rejected because of contamination. In these cases they were sent back to the recycling facilities and sent to landfill. Only they weren’t then taken off the recycling figures that had already been recorded…

More worrying is that 55% of our paper and 70% of our plastic is sent to China and India. Once its left our shores there is little Will to follow up where it goes or what happens to it…It really is a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

On a happier note we were shown a working model with “presteigne and norton recycling” where residents recycle 74% of their waste each week. The company sorts it at the kerbside and sells it direct to buyers. Last year they made £10,000 which was put back into community projects, so residents benefit directly from ‘doing their bit’. http://www.cwmharrylandtrust.org.uk/presteigne_norton_zero_waste.html

It’s tempting to feel pessimistic after watching programmes like this. It’s tempting to think ‘what’s the point?’ and to feel our efforts are worthless, but I don’t think they are. Yes things need to change, and they need to change quickly, but I remain optimistic that we have changed monumental things in the past and we can do it again.

Dispatches is available on 4OD for the next 28 days, so be sure to check it out.

Phew! That’s me done; I’m off to stroke the bunny for ten minutes before settling down to listen to Woman’s Hour.

What about you – did you watch Dispatches and what did you think? Over on Facebook we’ve got viewers frustrated with the negative attitudes of many and some disheartened about co-mingled recycling wondering whether it’s worth it. As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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