Andreas Lange takes a look at the recycling situation in Brighton and Hove

Over the past years, Brighton & Hove City Council has been heavily critiqued for its recycling scheme and its way of handling recycling. With Brighton’s well reported low recycling rates that averaged around 30% in 2019, it’s easy to point fingers at each other. Some point fingers at the council and their recycling scheme and others point at Brighton’s citizens and their habits of recycling. 

So let’s hear from environmentalist Melanie Rees who has spent the past 14 years in the field, helping a large portion of Brighton’s citizens with recycling through her volunteer organization, The Green Center. She explains that most of the questions she has received over the years, could be answered by reading the annual leaflet that is sent out by the Brighton & Hove City Council between March and April. 

Melanie tells us that “People would not take the initiative, to phone up the council and ask for one (the leaflet about recycling). They would just complain that they didn’t have one. Some people would, but I just noticed a lot of people didn’t.”  Melanie says, without judging some citizen’s lack of awareness: “I know that it will take a long time for some people to learn this information and that’s absolutely fine because I understand that people learn at their own pace and that there are so many factors that affect that pace. That the best, one can do, is to accept it. Knowing that you can’t change that, but you can keep giving them the information until one day the penny will drop and then it will all click.” 

But do the citizens need to be better at recycling, or could the Council do more to encourage the residents to recycle? We turn to university student Sophie Atkinson, current president at Leave No Trace society: “People do have a responsibility to make sure they are doing the right thing, I do believe that, I just also believe that people won’t.” She says and adds: “I think that the Council could be doing more to provide the information to people that perhaps aren’t going to go look for it.”

Communications Officer at The Brighton & Hove City Council, Brendan Murphy provided the following statement on email about their communication methods on recycling: “We carry out wider ranging communications and behaviour change campaigns with residents and businesses through media, social media, residents’ e-newsletters, signage, leaflets and other communications.” 

At first glance the Council seemingly has a solid online presence on Twitter and Facebook with a combined follower count of more than 78 000. These accounts are used to inform Brighton & Hove citizens about events, health & safety, city development and so forth. 

Listed on the Council’s website you’ll also find social media links to their initiative “Brighton & Hove Recycling & Refuse”, which is “the official Facebook page for Cityclean, Brighton & Hove City Council’s recycling, refuse and street cleaning department.” according to the description on these social media accounts.

Unfortunately when accessing these accounts, you’ll find the following message in their last social media post from late 2018: “This account is temporarily suspended and not being monitored, this is due to staff shortages which we’re working to resolve”. and in a follow up post stated that: “we’re sorry for the inconvenience and will look to relaunch soon.” But nearly two years later, these social media accounts have yet to be relaunched, despite still sporting over 6000 followers combined, followers that presumably are still awaiting the initiative’s return to social media.

Sophie told us more about how she feels about the Councils marketing of their recycling scheme: “So Brighton & Hove City Council are not very good at marketing awareness to their citizens, I think the only people who really know where you can recycle everything in this city, are people who have either lived here for many years… or they have gone out of their way to the research into how it all works…”. She also adds that ”…students who are only here for 1 or 2 years or 3 years, are probably never gonna know all the ins and outs of it.”

Sophie is certain that there are countries with better schemes and explains that “in Sweden they do the thing where, when you give cans back you can get money from it and you get a monetary reward. So it doesn’t have to be forced in a horrible way, but there can be schemes that encourage it.”

With some countries providing extensive recycling schemes like this, we also see the rise of privately owned businesses popping up around the world, like LoopStore. Which is run and operated by the international recycling firm TerraCycle, to offer possibly an alternative to publicly funded recycling schemes around the world, and most recently in the UK.

Tesco partnered with Loop on 15th of July this year and the products that Tesco sells are to be delivered in refillable containers that will be picked up and delivered to households across the UK through a subscription service.

But should solutions like this replace current recycling schemes and some people’s habits of dealing with them? We’ve asked TerraCycles’, Public Relations Executive, Sam Angel, about how they see their own existence in this regard:

“TerraCycle’s mission is to try and teach the world that waste can be viewed as a resource rather than a disposable commodity, however we hope that one day single-use materials can be eliminated and that there will be no need for TerraCycle to exist. While recycling is certainly part of the solution and making all product packaging widely recyclable would be a huge step in the right direction, it will not tackle the issue of waste at its root cause. This is why TerraCycle developed the Loop reusable packaging model, in an attempt to move away from disposable towards durable, long-lasting and refillable packaging.”

With the increased consumption and then production of waste, these organisations can only do so much. As Loop acknowledged, recycling isn’t necessarily the solution, and Green Center founder, Melanie Rees, can vouch for that: 

“The key thing we need to remember in all of this, is recycling is at the very very bottom of the waste hierarchy. There is only one thing below it and that’s cut energy recovery and that’s essentially incineration. Above it is: refuse, reduce, reuse and that’s where we need to be focusing our attention.”

Sophie Atkinson adds that “If the authorities took more of a stance in terms of sustainability and enforced these kinds of measures instead of private companies having to come up with their own sustainable ideas, then a lot more would change a lot faster.” 

Communications Officer, Brendan Murphy, offers the following statement in regards to who could do more to handle recycling in the city of Brighton: 

“Everyone must play their part in keeping the city clean and tidy – that includes the council, residents, businesses, students, landlords and visitors. People should do their very best to recycle properly, bin their rubbish correctly and not fly-tip. The council must do its bit by ensuring collections take place when they’re supposed to, introduce more technology and  continue educating everyone as much as possible.”

So.. where should we actually focus our attention?

Photo credit: Fenliokao

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