In these days when any post is rare, it may seem boastful to say that a leaflet dropped through my door that filled me with excitement. No, it wasn’t a new menu for Papa Johns (my goodness they’re offering a free bottle of pop with every order over a tenner – our luck has changed) it was a work of genius from Birmingham City Council telling me all about recycling. The leaflet depicted a plastic bottle alongside a picture of an unlovely fleece that had been made from recycled plastic. My little eco-heart skipped a beat, but being inherently lazy I put the leaflet to one side to ‘read properly later’ and begun salvaging plastic bottles in earnest. I’d spent a few weeks staying in Tendring in Essex, where the local authority collects all metal, paper, cardboard, glass and plastic bottles and I was thrilled to think Birmingham had finally joined tiny Tendring in the twenty-first century.
Two million tonnes of plastic is thrown away each year – just 7% of which is recycled. The problem is not simply that our landfills are overflowing; it’s also the issue of the world’s finite supply of oil being used to make packaging which is used once and then thrown away.Birmingham City Council currently sits at a shameful 363rd out of 393 in the local authority league table for recycling. Lichfield makes it into the top 10 and elsewhere in the West Midlands, Warwick, Coventry, Solihull Walsall and Wolverhampton are all recycling more than mighty Brum.
With more than a passing nod and wink to this esteemed website, in 2006 Birmingham Friends of the Earth ran the Birmingham’s Total Rubbish… campaign to highlight the Council’s dire recycling record. Petition-postcards told the shocking story that the city’s total amount of rubbish is 551,442 tonnes per year and rising.
Such was the support for this campaign that in the space of a few months over 1,500 postcards were signed and delivered to the Council. Who didn’t just chuck them in a landfill – as some had feared – but instead announced a doorstep recycling scheme for all homes not in multiple occupancy by spring 2008. (So that’s the second city finally coming up to the standards of rural Essex just four years later). Since the arrival of the new glossy leaflet I’ve saved an array of plastic bottles from landfill and last week (after a few carefully chosen words from my other half) decided the time had come to dispose of them.
I read the glossy leaflet again, properly this time. It told me which types of plastic could be recycled, what happened to them after recycling (the unlovely fleece), but not where or how you could recycle plastic in Birmingham. Undeterred, I rang the Council’s recycling hotline and spoke to a Very Nice Young Man who tried hard to be helpful. He told me that plastic recycling is only operating as part of a pilot roll out within a limited area, which doesn’t cover my postcode. And, after talking to his boss for long enough for me to fear for his job, there is NOWHERE in Birmingham for wannabe plastic recyclers to take their waste. He also, interestingly, mentioned that he’d never spoken to anyone who was as interested in recycling as I was – which is a tad worrying seeing as presumably his entire department is employed to focus on ensuring that waste is re-used. The council’s leaflet made no mention of ‘pilot schemes’ or select postcode areas. So, what was the point of it? Surely Birmingham City Council wouldn’t try to present a false image of their recycling record so that lazy readers like me would be fooled for a while? That would put them on a par with a moment of madness of the Solihull Conservatives who in election leaflets this year claimed that 80% of waste in the authority was ‘recycled’, when in fact it was being ‘burned’.
I’ve since found out that you can recycle plastic in Warwickshire and am now trying to work out if driving to Leamington Spa to drop off the plastic is worse than just not recycling it at all. I have to decide quickly though as if the bottles don’t go, I’ve been told I will have to.
Ed: thankfully plastic can be recycled at a few places in Solihull too… not as far as Leamington Spa!