John McLellan: Recycling is here to stay

Dealing with waste is particularly bad during festive season. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Dealing with waste is particularly bad during festive season. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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‘FOR the majority of Edinburgh households there will be no change to collection dates for green wheelie bins, food waste bins and red and blue boxes over the festive period.”

Well that’s what it says on the Edinburgh Council website anyway.

Unless, of course your collection day was Christmas Day, in which case your rubbish will lie about till tomorrow. And of course if you have been stupid enough to want to go away for the weekend during the holiday period, you could have a month’s worth of trash to deal with. Happy bin jumping. If you’re in that category, the daily reminder of your Christmas excess might force you to mess up your car and drive the whole dripping mush to the tip.

Down Merchiston way we missed our red recycling day, and so by tomorrow morning the streets will be like a scene from Ratcatcher as red boxes which would normally have been emptied on Wednesday, now topped up with the detritus of Christmas Day, await the collection boys. It will be the same again next week, when after Christmas, a holiday weekend and then Hogmanay there will be the blue box of alcohol shame at the front gate.

The recycling collection is sub-contracted to an Ellesmere Port firm called Palm Recycling. Their team’s pretty impressive – with a combination of constant running to keep up with the truck, sudden changes of direction and weight-lifting every 20 seconds or so, these chaps should be in line for contracts with Edinburgh Rugby should collecting recyclables not lead to career breaks.

Of course such speed and agility has its downsides, but the relocation of the bins and their elasticated blue covers every week from various points down the road or the neighbour’s drive is just part of the fun.

In our house we regard ourselves are reasonable recyclers with the bottles and cans going out once a fortnight, always resisting the childish temptation to indulge in the nihilism of chucking in the odd aerosol or light-bulb.

I have no idea what happens when a lightbulb gets through, but I’ll bet in a year’s supply of halogen spotlights not a few do make their way into the crushers every week – yes, you know who you are – I can’t imagine it’s that drastic.

Aerosols are a different matter altogether. On a Boys’ Brigade summer camp many years ago, I can well remember the sight of one of our officers covered in what can only be described as slurry as a spray can exploded in the middle of the rubbish pit fire. He was not a happy camper.

I have no problem with the principle of recycling. Waste is by definition, well, a waste and the big green bin is a lot easier to handle these days. But you do have to be on your toes to stay fully politically correct and compliant.

Take the cellophane-fronted cake box. Can you chuck the whole thing in the cardboard bin or should you remove said cellophane and put it in with the plastic? Silver foil from a chocolate biscuit? Does that go in with the tins or the paper, or can you live with yourself by putting it in with normal garbage?

Or the ultimate challenge, the Pringle’s tube, with its plastic top, cardboard body and metal bottom? Fiendishly tricky.

Of course the answer to all of this will be that all the information you need is on the council’s recycling website, and now most of us have the internet with us at all times on phones and tablets there really is no excuse for not quickly checking before committing wilful abuse of a waste bucket.

Thankfully in Edinburgh we have yet to go down the route of fining people for putting out the wrong kind of rubbish and you could reasonably expect barricades to be manned if the council tried it on.

It’s been asked many times before, but where does it all go? The answer is far from simple and you’d need another set of council leaflets by the phone (on recycled paper) to remind you. If you really cared that much.

So here goes. Your old food from those stinky wee black bins, which fill up with water during the slightest shower, is driven over to Cumbernauld where those nice people at Scottish Water Horizon (what a lovely name) turn your gunk into fertilizer and compost using anaerobic digestion and in-vessel composting. Of course they do. Meanwhile, your soggy leaves and grass cuttings become compost thanks to Forth Resource Management’s operation at Braehead quarry out near Newbridge.

Paper gets trucked to a mill in Norfolk where it is turned back into newsprint but then it really begins to get complicated. The contents of your blue and red boxes end up in Middlesbrough for sorting. Yes, that’s the town where visiting football fans wear surgical masks for a joke.

Aluminium cans then go to another firm in Warrington and steel ones are sent to Sims Metal Management, the world’s biggest recycling firm, who turn them back into new tins. Carboard ends up in South Wales and glass goes to a Yorkshire-based firm. Your plastic bottles? Lincolnshire. Batteries – that’ll be Walsall.

So why do we do this? Well aside from saving the planet, it apparently saves us money because if it wasn’t for all this recycling it would cost us far more in landfill taxes. Which the government has created, and on which VAT is also payable.

In total, the UK government received a tidy £168m in cash receipts from landfill tax in October alone, but that represented a drop of nearly nine per cent on October 2012. The statistics clearly show that the amount of rubbish being sent to landfill is diminishing fast, so without a massive hike in the level of tax the cash coming in to the Treasury should continue to fall.

Landfill tax is about to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and in the Independence white paper, the SNP spells out pretty clearly what it wants to do. Power over over environmental taxes “would allow Scotland greater opportunities to design integrated waste and other environmental policies, for example by employing both higher Landfill Tax and landfill bans”.

Landfill tax is currently worth £150m a year to the Scottish Government. But by 2025 it expects that only five per cent of all waste will go to landfill and I doubt they’ll just give up that £150m. So it looks very likely that recycling isn’t just here to stay, we’re going to get more of it, as councils desperate to avoid higher penalties from central government look to find more ways to keep the contents of your big green bin down.

Did I say the council hasn’t been daft enough to try recycling fines? Or every time you put out the big general waste bin will there be a bill? If it’s not Edinburgh first it will be somewhere else. Just wait and see.

Health concern gone crazy

CHRISTMAS shopping in modern, health-conscious Scotland. Scene: Morrisons at The Gyle.

Female shopper: Excuse me, do you sell cigars?

Assistant: Yes, we do. What kind would you like?

Shopper: I don’t know. They’re not for me. What kind have you got?

Assistant (looks blank and hesitates): Er, I’m not allowed to tell you.

Shopper (laughs with incredulity): I’m nearly 50 and I’m not about to start smoking cigars. They are for my father-in-law.

Assistant (looks at feet): I’m sorry. I know it’s daft but I’m not allowed to tell you.

Second assistant: Can I help you?

Shopper: I want some cigars for a present but apparently you can’t tell me what kind you have. What are the biggest ones you have?

Second assistant: I can’t tell you.

Shopper: Can you give me the biggest ones you’ve got then?

Second assistant: Certainly madam.

Challenge gives me TV terror

Not since Patrick Troughton was playing Dr Who have I watched the telly from behind the sofa, but tonight that feeling of terror will return. Unfortunately for me, there will be no escaping the horror of my appearance on University Challenge.

I can’t reveal how it finishes, all I can say is that as far as I’m concerned for total embarrassment on national TV it will be hard to beat.