Reporter 428, 30 November 1998

Throwaway culture tested bin by bin

If yours is one of the 100,000 Leeds households with a green recycling bin outside your house, then John Barton probably knows what you have for breakfast, your favourite crisps and where that missing bracelet got to.

To help Leeds City Council with its recycling scheme, Mr Barton and his team have been through thousands of Leeds bins in a three year study. "Working with rubbish you come across absolutely everything. But the green bins are better as at least their contents tend to be dry," said Mr Barton, of Civil Engineering.

The Leeds City Council recycling scheme began in 1993 and now covers a third of the city's households, but its success has been difficult to track.

"Before the Council considers expanding or changing the scheme they need to analyse what's happening at the moment - and that means looking through the bins," said Mr Barton.

The household waste is separated for analysis into paper, plastics, metals, textiles, and organic matter, though not everything thrown away can be so conveniently labelled.

"One bin was filled with an entire concrete coal bunker, dismantled and neatly slotted in. The lorry couldn't get the thing off the ground," said Mr Barton.

The study's results show that about 15% of all glass and 24% of all metals are recycled by green households, compared to nearly 60% of paper.

"That's not too surprising as paper can be easily stored for collection, but people are less inclined to keep messy empty tin cans - they just chuck them in the bin," he said.

The results will also allow comparison between recycling patterns in different regions of the city, and allow the Council to judge the effectiveness of the scheme's advertising and marketing.

The programme was run with waste consultants Save Waste and Prosper, and was not as unpleasant as it may seem. "You get used to it after a while and strangely, other people's rubbish isn't nearly as bad as sorting through your own bin to find a lost watch."

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