Recycling, it really should be a child-proof system

SO my wife, Anna, is a primary school teacher. KS1 for anyone interested, which means the children in her class are roughly 5 or 6 six year old. The other day she decided to do a lesson on recycling, as part of what I believe is the materials section of the KS1 curriculumn. Recycling is a hot-topic in our house – our children are both on their own schools Eco-Committe, and take things very seriously….

Which is the way it should be. They should take it seriously, without getting on my soap box, it’s sad that the next generation have been forced to take it seriously, It should never have come to this.

But anyway, recycling. Anna set out with the best of intentions, intent on teaching the eager smiling faces around her what they can recycle and what they can’t. And if they can’t, why not. After all, how hard can that be? As lessons go, it’s not Pythagoras’ Theorum for toddlers, or at least it shouldn’t be. But then recycling in this country’s not that straightforward is it?

It should be, but it just isn’t. ‘Miss, what do the numbers mean?’. Cue Anna desperately Googling what the numbers, which are anything between 1 and 7 actually mean. She answers. ‘Okay Miss, so presumably 1 is the best?’ followed by ‘Is 7 bad?’ Followed by the inevitable ‘why can’t we just recycle all the plastics’ and then ‘why don’t we just stop using the bad ones’. 

I have to confess, I had to double check what the numbers mean and which ones were which. For the benefit of anyone reading this who doesn’t know: 1 = PET; 2 = HDPE; 3 = PVC; 4 = LDPE; 5 = PP; 6 = PS, and 7 = Other. But for an intelligent primary school teacher – and certainly for her pupils – that’s meaningless. It’s just the letters you might be left with during Scrabble. It’s not advice on whether or not you can recycle it. Guidance online that I managed to find suggests that 3, 6 and 7 should be avoided. Which means 1, 2, 4 and 5 are the good guys, the superheroes of plastic recycling if you will. 

But apparently PET and HDPE are collected by 92% of councils. That’s not 100%. That means 8% of councils don’t bother to collect the easy to recycle plastics. Why not? And 4 (LDPE) can’t be put out for collection, you’re relying on the person to take it to a recycling centre. So is it really a good guy? Kerbside ‘might be possible within 5 years’. So can that be claimed on the packaging to be recyclable? Well as things stand yes, it can. As it can be recycled. Is is easy to recycle? No, as your average man on the street can’t just put this in his recycling bin. How do you explain this one to a class of primary school children?

The public should be able to recycle plastics. Easily. By easily, I mean put it in their kerbside recycling. If people really want to change things, that’s what has to happen. But that will only work if what can be collected and recycled at the kerbside is standardised on a national basis. None of this ‘recyclable where facilities are available’ – because for me, that basically means it’s theoretically recyclable but probably won’t be. Recycling shouldn’t be rocket science. Can I recycle this? Yes…. well then put it in the kerbside bin. No, put it in the bin. With this, packaging could be accurate – and recycling may start to happen en masse.

And ‘Miss, why are there different recycling logos, why is there not the same on all the boxes?’…. don’t get me started on this one. 



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