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Recycling plastics

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Find out how some councils are tackling the issue of plastics recycling and preventing it from going to landfill.

Recycle plastic bags

Lichfield DC claims to be the first to offer a kerbside recycling service for plastic carrier bags, though some other councils collect this material at recycling centres. Launched in July as a pilot for 2,500 homes, the service allows residents to put discarded carrier bags into one bag in their recycling box, which are then recycled into new bags.

The response has been good, with nine wheelie bins of compressed plastic bags collected in the first week. Recycling officer Christine Cole says: "We were approached by a resident connected with the plastics industry with the idea. It has proved amazingly popular and has been really well received."

The bags are kept in a separate container in the recycling box to ensure that they are not mixed with plastic bottles, and are recycled by Birmingham-based Euro Packaging. Ms Cole expects the scheme will be extended as it has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

Keep residents informed

Residents in Eastleigh BC are used to having alternate weekly collections of recyclable and non-recyclable waste, as that's been the practice in the borough since the mid-1990s.

Eastleigh was already doing fortnightly collections long before the political controversies forced some councils to drop the idea.

This has helped Eastleigh to improve its recyclable waste collection at minimal cost, because the same vehicles can be used for both collections. But it has found that constant communication is the only way to keep up public awareness of the need to recycle. To avoid confusion over plastics it uses a slogan: "If it's a bottle, use the recycling bin; if it's not, use the residual bin."

Angela Taylor, recycling and development officer, says: "People tend to see plastic as one material, but we recycle only bottles because that is simple to do.

"Even so, some people get confused by 'bottle' and put in yoghurt pots and stuff, which are a different type of plastic and often contaminated with food waste.

"One problem we face is that manufacturers put messages like 'this is recyclable' on containers, so people put them in with their recyclable materials.

"Whether a plastic is recyclable depends on where you live, but manufacturers never say that, so it is a matter of constant messages from us to the public."

Help farmers to go green

'Farm film' might not be widely known to the general public, but it is a problem for councils in rural areas. It is the material typically used to bind circular hay bales. Disposal causes difficulties because it can end up in some strange and unwanted places.

South Lakeland DC did offer an award- winning farm film collection service, but the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs withdrew funding a few years ago from the council and switched its support to the Cumbria Farm Plastic Recycling Scheme. The council now collaborates with other bodies to promote this.

South Lakeland recycling officer Margaret Blackstone explains: "A lot of farmers just throw film out. It does not biodegrade so it comes back to the surface, it also blows about and gets stuck in trees, and it blocks watercourses.

"Farmers who do not take part in recycling cram the stuff into bin liners and throw it away so it ends up in landfill sites, and that costs us money. It also gets fly-tipped."

Charges for the farm recycling scheme are less than it would cost a farmer to hire a skip or pay a landfill charge. The material is taken to BPI Recycled in Dumfries, the only plant in the UK to handle farm film.

Provide recycling banks

It is easy to spot a recycling bank in Chesterfield BC as there are 80 sites across the borough, which covers just 30 square miles.

Plastic bottle recycling is available at 24 of the council's main sites, most of which are located in easily reached places such as supermarkets and pub car parks, and strategically placed within reasonable distance of most households.

At each site, plastic bottles and metal cans are collected together in 1,100 litre or 1,280 litre containers. Chesterfield collected 252 tons of plastic bottles in 2005-06, equivalent to 5.86kg of the material per household, more than twice the UK average.

Material is collected by Sheffield Reclaim, a charity which provides jobs for people with learning difficulties, mental health problems and other disabilities. Cans and bottles are separated magnetically at its plant.

Principal waste management officer David Hibbert says the collection points' success has helped by getting plastic bottles out of the normal refuse collection system.

Residents do not always comply with requests to crush discarded bottles, and at full size they have little weight but considerable bulk, taking up a lot of space in collection vehicles.

"Collection has increased at a very fast rate and the difficulty is keeping the collection points to the standard we would wish," he says.

"There is a limit on how much of such a voluminous waste you can put in there."

Blanket coverage

Pendle BC collects plastic bottles from 99% of its homes only a few outlying areas are not covered. In 2006-07 it recycled 470 tonnes of plastic bottles, equivalent to 12kg per household.

Plastic bottles are collected fortnightly along with glass, cans, paper, textiles and cardboard, but in their own blue bags so they are separated from other waste.

The scheme is run by the council's direct services organisation, which also operates a depot where the bottles are compacted and bundled before sale to plastics merchants.

Carole Taylor, waste management co-ordinator, says the council's success has rested on communication. Pendle experimented with different media billboards, bus shelters, direct mail, radio advertising, road shows and posters. She says: "Our research shows that our billboard advertising was successful but that people didn't respond well to radio advertising."

The council has met the common problem of confusion over what plastic materials may be included, despite its best efforts to explain this. Ms Taylor says: "We regularly have to separate other plastics from bottles at the depot."

She says a national publicity scheme giving easy-to-follow information on recycling would help councils overcome this problem.

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