2021 – the year of re-use, not recycling

Every year British households throw 22 million tons of waste into the bin.

And worse, recycling rates have stagnated at some 44 per cent and the UK is unlikely to hit its target of 50 per cent by this year.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of recycling sorted by households are being sent to landfill or incinerators because it has not been properly sorted and this has increased by 84 per cent over the past four years.

In some areas, as much as 15 per cent of the rubbish separated for recycling is rejected. Council officials suggest the reason is that some bins are ‘contaminated’ with items which cannot be recycled, after waste has been sorted incorrectly.

So where does the fault lie? There are a number of factors at play here but it seems that much more can be done to help households recycle their waste more effectively.

In a recent survey commissioned by the British Science Association, two thousand people were questioned on their recycling knowledge.

None of the people surveyed got full marks, with many making mistakes that could result in entire bags of recycling being rejected and sent to landfill.

Two thirds of those surveyed thought kitchen foil and foil trays could not be recycled when – on the contrary: as long as they are clean, they can be.

Just over half of people did not know that empty deodorant aerosols and hairspray cans are fit for recycling, along with the plastic cap.

Also, more than half did not realise metal can lids, empty surface cleaner bottles and empty bleach bottles could also be recycled.

Meanwhile, almost half of those surveyed incorrectly thought used kitchen roll could go in the recycling bin and 24% made the same mistake with coffee cups, which cannot be recycled because of their plastic lining.

Other mistakes included not emptying and rinsing shampoo and conditioner bottles or food containers and not taking the plastic out of paper tissue boxes.

So it seems that the simplistic system we have of identifying items as recyclable through one standard symbol combined with a lack of clear information are woefully inadequate.

Surely, it’s time for a more sophisticated information system that could help every household push us closer to our 50 per cent recycling rate and prevent much of our sorted waste from going to landfill?

Against this back-drop we have pending legislation to significantly reduce the production of single use plastic packaging, and indeed to create a step change in relation to all single use packaging – whatever the material.

Why? Because using an alternative, disposable material will simply shift the problem elsewhere.

Glass, aluminium and paper all present their own problems with regards to their sustainability, energy usage, carbon emissions and sustainability.

Hence it is clear that in parallel to making improvements in waste recycling WE MUST reduce the volume of all materials which are used once and disposed of – whether that be at home or out of home.

And the massive volumes of single use waste generated by the food service sector as consumers increasingly seek food on the go and out of home is eye watering.

According to the charity Hubbub, Britain’s growing “lunch on the go” habit is generating nearly 11bn items of packaging waste a year, much of which is not recycled.

Workers are buying takeaway and fast-food lunches more than they did five years ago, according to research, generating 10.7bn separate items of waste over a year from sandwich boxes to crisp packets and napkins.

This usage is an appalling waste of materials with the average lifespan of food to go packaging 10 minutes at best and in many cases significantly less. This just doesn’t make sense.

The survey of more than 1,200 workers, found an average lunch purchase included four packaged items, with 76% of shoppers picking up a main item such as a boxed sandwich, 70% a packet of crisps or another snack and 65% a napkin.

The majority – 64% – said they bought lunch on the go more now than they did five years ago – spending £13.6bn annually, the research found. More than a quarter said this was because they were too busy to make their own.

It is also a consequence of the UK’s evolving food culture, with 20% of workers saying there are more places to eat out now and 19% saying eating out is more tempting than it used to be.

“Lunch-on-the-go items create huge levels of waste and unfortunately much of this isn’t recyclable as it’s made from mixed materials or isn’t recycled due to contamination from food residue,” said Trewin Restorick, the chief executive of Hubbub.

“By planning lunches in advance and using up items in your fridge you can massively reduce the amount of packaging you use while saving money by cutting down on food waste.

“If you do buy lunch on the go, don’t be shy – take along your own container to your favourite lunch spot.”

And we’ve all seen images of events such as Glastonbury with mountains of waste created over just a few days.

But we are starting to see changes for the better.

The majority of coffee shops are now selling multi-use cups, indeed Waitrose insist on their use, retailers are trialling customers bringing their own boxes for deli foods and zero waste stores are growing in popularity.

And Marks & Spencer announced this week that they are rolling-out their bring your own box initiative.

Street Food Box has been conceived to can capitalise on this momentum.

Eat, rinse, sleep, repeat is our mantra, promoting re-use, not recycling.

We’re going to make change one box at a time.

Street Food Box is coming soon – register your interest via our website:


Last Updated on 17/03/2023 by Eddie Stableford

Leave a Reply