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How can I make sure my recycling isn’t incinerated?

Waste Recycling

Lucy Siegle: ‘Recycling surpassed our pastime of shovelling stinking rubbish into landfill – an unappealing aspect of our mining heritage.’ Photograph: Alamy


Powered by article titled “How can I make sure my recycling isn’t incinerated?” was written by Lucy Siegle, for The Observer on Sunday 29th September 2013 07.30 UTC

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to enjoy myself. Two weeks ago I was at the nation’s biggest exhibition dedicated to municipal waste. The hall was full of big kit and startling innovation, the sort of thing that makes the Great Exhibition look a bit lacklustre. I was surrounded by leviathan machinery for crushing, sorting or burning our discards, all attempting to entice local authorities and waste companies to buy in. But to which, recycling or incineration? The industry seemed split down the middle.

It is annoying that the UK has a patchwork of systems – some refuse is commingled (i.e., thrown together in a box), some separated. The Campaign for Real Recycling ( says that separated streams are better – the recyclate is less likely to be contaminated, therefore offering material that can be sold worldwide.

Your best bet is to follow that “Reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra (the one the Wombles taught us). And recycle as much as possible, very precisely. It’s easy – the boxes are well labelled and it only takes minutes.

Superficially our 2012 rubbish figures look good. Recycling surpassed our pastime of shovelling stinking rubbish into landfill – an unappealing aspect of our mining heritage – so that 43% was recycled, 34% landfilled and 21% incinerated. Achieving this required herculean effort on behalf of just about everyone, plus an escalator tax system which makes it uneconomic to landfill. Well done, everyone! Except that this is not quite good enough. Our rate of improvement dropped last year, leading to fears it could flatline.

Meanwhile England’s 23 incinerators (70 others are rumoured to be in the pipeline) are waiting to capitalise on any recycling apathy. And while we’ve become obsessed about the evils of landfills, the atmospheric equivalent, skyfill, gets little air time.

I won’t go into the much-disputed health impacts of incineration here. New-age incinerators have been billed as cleaner and greener, able to turn trash into energy and rebranded “energy from waste facilities” or “energy recovery units”. But incineration could impede recycling, diverting rubbish to keep these expensive operations functioning.

Recycling’s best defence is to keep up the noise about recycling, to assert that after reduce or reuse this remains the smart, green way to go. Or we could devolve this task once again to the Wombles – they’ve been signed up for a new 26-part series.

Green crush: water voles

Water voles are more than just a reassuring riverbank presence – they’re a biodiversity barometer. Their existence tells us that our wetland river habitats are in good health and that a decade of creating more wetland habitats in the UK is paying eco dividends. Unfortunately the latest news from the National UK Water Vole Database is not encouraging: maps from this summer indicate populations have taken a dunking, down by more than a fifth. We can do more: creating and maintaining large-scale good-quality habitat, reintroduction schemes, mink control (invasive mink have become an unexpected predator) and habitat management. Find a water vole recovery project ( and reverse this creature’s fortunes.

Greenspeak: Planet hacking {plaa-n’t hā-qyn’g} verb

Term given to a small number of extreme and controversial geoengineering technologies aimed at reversing or delaying climate change impact. Includes injecting particles high into the atmosphere to disperse solar energy from the surface. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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