Why are Brits rubbish at recycling?

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My colleague Ed Cox has quite a controversial take on the British approach to recycling…

As I danced down the stairs on Saturday morning with another couple of bin bags full of rubbish, I asked myself why we Brits are so bad at recycling?

I’m not a bad person but it just never occurs to me to put my empty bottles in a box and take them to the skip by the station.

When I’ve just finished reading the hefty Sunday papers it never dawns on me to fold them up and separate them from the rest of my detritus.


My theory is unless you’re born with the skill then there’s no hope for you. It’s not in my blood so even if we’re forced into it in London, I probably won’t follow the rules and will inevitably face a weekly fine or whatever punishment the authorities choose.

Living in South London, most people seem to interpret recycling as fly tipping, for example, dropping your old fridge/microwave/TV/car on the pavement at the end of a nearby road.

But I pay my council tax. The road surfaces are rubbish, there’s dog mess all over the pavements and there aren’t enough police on the street to combat the shocking crime. Why on earth should I spend hours sifting through my rubbish when everything else is falling apart?

Ah, if only I’d be born in Germany. They really do have it in their blood. Installed into them from such a young age. During my year there I never quite got the hang of the separate bins. But the discipline amazed me.

Even at 3am after a long drunken party the plastic bottles were painstakingly separated from the glass ones and discarded into the appropriate box.

It just seemed so easy and so logical. The volumes may be insignificant in Germany and the UK compared to what’s lying around in China and India but what about personal responsibility? What about the trail we leave behind us?

Right, I’ve convinced myself I’m going to make the effort. From now on I shall do my bit and part my PVC from my PET, my cardboard from my cauliflower and my oranges from my Observer.

Is anyone out there British and committed to recycling? Am I doing my country a disservice?

Am I making stereotypes about Germans yet again?

Are you worried about our inability to recycle??

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3 Responses to Why are Brits rubbish at recycling?

  1. Smells 3 July, 2008 at 3:03 pm #

    In fairness, it isn’t just Germany. It’s Switzerland, Austria, Spain even, the Netherlands, France, and much of Scandanavia. By comparison Brits do indeed suck at recycling. Possibly something to do with our island mentality? Much like getting mugged or credit card fraud, climate change and pollution are simply things that happen to other people. Until, of course, they happens to us…

  2. Rebecca 3 July, 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    As someone living in southeast England and who has a fortnightly recycled rubbish collection I have to say that it’s really quite easy to separate rubbish out, at least once you get the hang of what’s eligible for recycling and what’s not! However, I will add that sometimes when I’m expected to wash out a yoghurt pot or baked bean can before putting in the recycling bin I really can’t be bothered and resort to just putting into the general rubbish bin…..

  3. John Abdullah 3 January, 2009 at 6:47 pm #

    A very interesting article highlighting a subject that is about to become more and more of a problem in the coming years. The company I work for has recently developed a recycling station encompassing four bins for internal or external use in offices, schools, public buildings etc. The station consists of bins for the recycling of: Glass / Plastic / Paper / cans. The stations are ideal for any company or public body wanting to enhance their recycling capabilities and can also help towards achiving the ISO 14000 Environmental Standard. We are now looking into all the systmes currently used for recycling and looking at ways of developing new improved systems. Our present range of recycling bins can be bought at http://www.impbins.com

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