English recycling

Cambridge is a poor recycler, apparently. Four years after rolling out the blue bins and promising to crash through the 45% recycling barrier, Cambridge has raised its levels by just 0.4% to 44.1% and ranks 181st out of 352 councils in England and Wales.

Oh dear. But perhaps we should start to panic. Recycling has about it all the characteristics of an apotropaic ritual – in many primitive religions, if you appease the gods by performing an arcane series of actions in the correct order with no omissions they will not punish you. Similarly, if you respect the plastic taboos, separate your compostables from your non-compostables, your polyethylene terephthalate (fizzy drink bottles) and polypropolene (margarine tubs) from your low density polyethelene (bin liners, packaging film) you will have placated the Levitican god of global warming, and he will not incinerate your children’s children.

In a world without religion, we would be lost without recycling. It is an index of our virtue. However, it also clearly makes a certain amount of sense. Threats of global warming aside, any economy of seven billion souls which relies upon landfilling or burning everything we use after one use is likely to be both short-lived and a bit stupid. A little bit of recycling discipline doesn’t do any harm, like washing your own floors or walking to the shops.

But getting your plastics to the recycling shed is only the beginning of the conundrum. In this short extract from Addicted to Plastics, we learn among other things the difference between recycling and down-cycling, and the frustrations associated with categorising bottles of mixed plastics. Blasphemous stuff!



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