Rubbish and recycling seem to be those topics that are as contentious as parking! However, at the end of the day, there is a legal framework that requires us all to play our part.

It is rooted in European Union directives that will almost certainly be enshrined in UK law when we eventually leave the Union. These laws are nowhere near as draconian as urban myth would have us believe.  After all, many of us already put our trash in a designated refuse container before someone comes and takes it away for us!

What your council does

Local authorities are required to comply with a wide range of waste and recycling legislation. In England and Wales, cities and districts are obliged by law to provide a domestic waste collection service to households, while county councils must handle its disposal. Unitary authorities must do both. These duties are laid out in the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990. Many councils also offer waste collection services to businesses for which they can charge.

Councils can require occupiers of premises to present their household waste for collection in a specified way under the EPA. However, their powers were scaled back in England in March 2015 when failure to comply with any notice was degraded from a criminal to a civil offence.

Boosting recycling

The EU Waste Framework Directive 2008  includes targets for member states to reuse and recycle 50% of household waste by 2020. It also requires councils to provide separate collection of paper, plastics, metal and glass. If they opt instead for co-mingled collection at the doorstep, then waste is separated usually by a contractor at a specialist waste management plant.

The recycling rate for waste from households in England stood at 44.9% in 2016, according to government figures published last December. Progress is being made, but If individual councils miss the 2020 target, any fines imposed by the EU will be passed down to them. Your council has a powerful incentive to boost recycling.

Many of us became more aware of the challenge to the oceans after watching BBC’s Blue Planet, but landfill is also a major issue. Many would say it is only common sense that we reduce, reuse and recycle more to minimize the need for landfill.   After all, where on earth is all the waste we generate going to end up?  The EU Landfill Directive  is on the case and requires the UK to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill.  Targets set for 2010 and 2013 were met and the next one comes in 2020. Landfill tax, which increases year on year and currently stands at £84.40 per tonne for 2016/17, is probably the biggest incentive for local authorities to divert material from landfill.

Where does it go?

UK recycling plants reprocess millions of tonnes of material every year and:

  • all the newsprint manufactured here in the UK is now made from 100% recycled paper.
  • all the organic (garden and kitchen) waste we collect is recycled here.
  • over 80% of the glass collected for recycling is used in the UK

Plastics are often exported to China which, while it seems bizarre at first, makes sense because China lacks the primary resources to manufacture enough plastic from scratch and cargo ships often return there empty anyway.  However, China has recently announced that it is tightening up its own laws on importing recyclable plastics, which may give our local authorities another headache and increase their costs at a time when budgets are tight.

 Bin etiquette

Shared bins are the norm for blocks of flats, and work providing everyone reads and heeds the instructions of what goes where.   Do remember that dumping the wrong rubbish, or even leaving furniture and old fridges by the bins, just ends up costing the whole block money to remove them.  Should you have the misfortune to have a bad apple living in your block who occasional ‘fly tips’, check your insurance policy as many now include removing this type of rubbish as standard.



 The opinions and views expressed in the above articles are those of the author only and are for guidance purposes only. The authors disclaim any liability for reliance upon those opinions and would encourage readers to rely upon more than one source before making a decision based on the information.