Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Getting greener

Just a little update on my job as a recycling advisor for all you keen recyclers who would like to know! I am in the third week now and have met many members of the public, all Westminster residents, ranging on a scale from the not-so-green to the extreme-green! Rather than dichotomous or mutually exclusive, I am finding these terms to be rather on the same continuum. I am learning that you cannot have one model for behaviour change in relation to sustainability as individuals begin at different levels of green so need encouragement and advice tailored to their level.

In Westminster residential areas there are both Micro Recycling Centres (big recycling bins) and a once-a-week doorstep collection service. Often, people think that if packaging has a recyclable symbol on it, they can put it out for collection, but they do not realise that it depends upon whether your local council has the facilities to recycle that particular item. In the doorstep collection in Westminster one can recycle paper, card, cans, tins, glass bottles and jars, aerosols and plastic bottles. The Council is working on being able to offer recycling of different types of plastic and food waste.

A good day at work for me is when I have helped someone who would like to recycle learn how to do it; perhaps they have just moved in and were not aware of the options, or do not speak much English so need one of my leaflets that describe which items to recycle visually or in their first language. For those who are already recycling, I ask them how we can improve the service and check that they are aware where they can recycle more diverse materials that are not collected like small appliances, batteries, textiles, cartons and plastic bags. They can then take it to the next level and reduce their waste and recycling in the first place, for example through purchasing only items needed and those with less packaging. Inevitably we get some who believe it a waste (excuse the pun) of time, or who have heard rumours that it all ends up in landfill anyway. These latter comments are fortunately few and far between and often I am able to talk them around to it by explaining that it is easy (a mixed collection service means they do not have to do any sorting), important for various public health and environmental reasons and by showing them where it goes (to a local recyclables sorting plant where it is sorted mechanically and by hand followed by recycling process plants depending on the material- plastic bottle lids are made into plastic crates for example).

Many barriers to high recycling levels do not lie with the residents themselves. A common complaint is that in order to reduce our own waste, it is up to the supermarkets to give us more options for buying items with less packaging. Many Westminster residents have a small flat so would prefer more frequent recycling collections so as not to clog up there kitchen or hall way; unfortunately, because refuse collections are more frequent, the excess recycling ends up there. It would seem that more information is needed as, for example, it has not been made clear by the Council which types of plastic bottles can be recycled, nor the fact that you should compress them and take the lid off (the lid can go loose into the recycling bag or box).

So there you go. I am slowly but surely helping people to slide a little further along the green continuum towards ‘extreme green’, wherever they started from! By the way, this week is a great time to thoroughly investigate reaching your recycling potential in your area because it is Recycle Week 2010!

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