On Thursday night I attended a talk about the recycling of South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) waste collected by Biffa. It was an enlightening evening which has resulted in myself becoming a more efficient recycler overnight. So, for that, may I thank Henley Plastic Reduction and it’s tireless organiser Julia Carey as well as SODC and their knowledgeable recycling expert, Alex Pyle.
Apparently, Henley residents are above average at recycling! Nearly 90% of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse’s “green bin” contents actually get separated out for sale to secondary vendors, while the remainder is incinerated to generate power for local homes, the ash being further reused in the surfacing of new roads. While we should all educate ourselves on the intricacies of what can (stretchy plastic bags, aerosol cans, plastic bottles with lids) and cannot (clingfilm, toothbrushes, plant pots!) go into the marvellous green bin, I suggest that we, the excellent recyclers that we are, also direct our attention to an area in our town where a shocking proportion of recyclable materials is being inadvertently sent to the incinerator simply due to lack of care.
Biffa also service the public bins all around Henley-on-Thames. A select few of those bins are separated recycling bins (plastic/paper, glass/metal, rubbish). I asked the presenter a question about the contents of the remaining bins, as to whether they would be checked for recyclable items. We were informed that those bins’ contents will go straight to the incinerator with no chance for recycling simply because the process would be too time consuming and possibly because so many of the recyclables would be contaminated by other waste. This makes sense, of course, but what struck me in that moment was how much of an oversight that is when surely at least 50% of the contents of the town bins will be recyclables! It is always best to recycle materials when we can to prevent the extraction of the raw materials needed to produce them. While incineration is providing a manageable solution for non recyclables, it should always be a last resort.
Surely everyone agrees, and hopefully SODC as well, that a plan for improved separated bins should be on the top of the priority list for the town, especially seeing as, any day now, Henley will be filled with visitors buying, using and then disposing of a staggering about of single use, yet recyclable, items. The current recyclable public bins (pictured above) are very bulky, newer separated bins could be of a completely different design suitable for the space they are to be located in. This action, along with the knowledge of what to recycle will help to create a culture locally of responsibility for the proper destination of an item that is no longer of use.
About the author: Jessica is a local River enthusiast and passionate environmentalist. She organises river cleanups locally, which are announced in the Facebook group ‘Upper Thames River Cleanup Group’.