Household Rubbish
There are 60 million people in the UK and we produce an average of 10 times our own body weight a year in rubbish. This is around 20 million tonnes of rubbish every year, enough to fill Wembley Stadium about 50 times!

Changes in household waste
The KS2 activity ‘Waste Timeline’ shows a series of events, which have had an impact on the way rubbish is collected and disposed. The first landfill site was opened in Athens in 3000BC and we still rely heavily on this method of disposing of waste today in the UK. However, this option is not sustainable as there is a finite amount of land available for waste burial.

In Holland, where much of the land is below sea level, there is not much scope for constructing landfill sites. The imposition of Landfill Tax from 1996 in the UK recognises that there is an environmental cost to landfill and companies have to pay a tax on every tonne of waste sent to landfill. Some of the money raised is used to reduce the impact of landfill sites on local people.

In the late 13th century, householders were encouraged to keep the front of their houses clear of rubbish by the declaration of a new law. Most of the rubbish would have been burnt on open fires. This would have been an improvement on throwing rubbish into the street.

Toilet waste would have been collected in chamber pots and thrown out of doors and windows into the street – not very pleasant when you were walking underneath a first floor window! Rakers were employed from the mid 14th century to clear the street, put waste into carts and take it away once a week. This was reinforced by Henry IV’s removal order, which threatened penalties if waste was not removed.

However, it wasn’t until 1875 that the Public Health Act started the door-to-door collection of household waste – and invented the institution of bin men. The Victorians also built the sewer network in towns and cities to take wastewater away from houses and into rivers.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 encouraged the use of gas and electrical fires over open fires using coal and peat. This led to a reduction in the amount of ash and cinders in household waste. However, there was an increase in paper and card rubbish, which had previously been burnt. Another major change was the start of plastic production from petroleum in the 1930s and therefore plastic waste.

Re-use and recycling are not new concepts. One of the first examples of recycling was the collection of rags for papermaking, helped by Elizabeth 1 granting licences for collection in 1588. The British Paper Company was established in 1890 and used recycled materials from rag and bone men. During the Second World War it was necessary to make do and mend and large scale recycling of iron took place. Composting was encouraged for home-grown vegetables.

The return and re-use of glass bottles via the milkman and ‘pop man’ or by refundable deposits in shops was more common 20 years ago than today. However, the advent of the UK’s first glass bottle bank in 1977 could be seen as the start of a new phase of recycling. We now have 50,000 glass bottle banks alone in the UK, with most recycling sites including can, paper, plastic and clothing banks.

The Landfill Tax could encourage firms to recycle more waste and therefore reduce the amount they pay. The Government’s Waste Strategy 2000 set targets for household waste recycling of 25% by 2005, 30% by 2010 and 33% by 2015. This was partially in response to European waste legislation.

Activities: Waste Timeline (KS2); Rubbish - then and now (KS2).

At the moment, the UK recycles much less than our Northern European neighbours.

In 2001, around 35% of glass bottles were recycled (587,000 tonnes). Other European countries recycle as much as 80 or 90%! Glass is 100% recyclable as it retains its quality during the recycling process. One problem in the UK is that we recycle more green than clear or brown glass whereas packaging companies in the UK use more clear and brown glass than green.

This is because of imported products such as wine and beer, which are bottled in green glass. Coloured glass must be separated before new glass is produced to maintain the clear, brown and green colours. If mixed colours are used, only green glass can be produced. Soon we may recycle more green glass containers than we need to produce! Therefore, we need to recycle a greater proportion of clear and brown glass, as these are the colours that the packaging companies prefer.

In the past, many more bottles were collected, washed and refilled with the same product e.g. milk or fizzy drinks. Shops charged a refundable deposit to encourage customers to return bottles. Milkmen still collect empties when they deliver fresh bottles. In Germany, for example, efficient modern re-use schemes are run in supermarkets for beer and soft drinks including well-known brands like Coca-Cola.

Activities: the Shattering Story of Glass (KS2)

Over 2 million tonnes of plastics are thrown away each year in the UK. Although this is only 11% by weight of household waste, it equates to 20% by volume. The amount of plastic recycling is increasing and by 2001 had reached 13.5%.

There are three different types of plastic used in packaging. These are:

  • Polyethylene Bottles (PET) Recycling label
  • Polyvinyl Chloride Bottles (PVC) Recycling label
  • High Density Polyethylene Bottles (HDPE) Recycling label

The first two types (used for mainly drinks and cooking oil) are transparent, whilst HDPE bottles (used for detergents and milk) are opaque and can be coloured. The different types of plastics must be separated to make similar packaging products.

However, this is difficult as not all plastics are labelled and sometimes packaging will contain more than one type of plastic. Mixed post-consumer plastic waste can be used to make other items such as garden furniture, road cones, carrier bags, fencing and textiles.

Activities: Plastics Recycling (KS2)

Over 11 million tonnes of paper and cardboard are used each year in Britain and 8 million tonnes are thrown away. This is around 60% by volume of household waste and very little is recycled. However, nearly 60% of paper and board made in the UK contains recycled fibre. Recycled paper products are made from waste generated by printers, box makers and large users of packaging.

Paper facts:

  • 10-17 trees are used to make 1 tonne of paper
  • Paper cannot be recycled more than 6 times as the fibres then become too short to join.

Cans are a precious source of scrap metal. They are made from either steel (with a think protective coating of tin) or aluminium. In 2003, 2.5 billion steel cans were recycled, but 9 billion steel cans were sent to landfill. Steel recycling makes good economic sense as steel has a high value and recycling collections can often be made at zero cost to the collector.

75% of all canned drinks sold in the UK are packaged in aluminium and the proportion is rising. In 2001 the UK consumed 5 billion aluminium drinks cans, of which 42% were recycled. This is a great improvement on the 2% recycled in 1989 although it still means that around 3 billion cans are still landfilled each year. Aluminium cans are recycled into new aluminium cans. Used beverage cans are normally back on supermarket shelves as new beverage cans in 6-8 weeks.

Activities: Aluminium Can Life Cycle

Kitchen and Garden Waste
Most kitchen and garden waste is biodegradable, i.e. will decompose over a period of time. Waste fruit and vegetables and garden trimmings can be turned into compost, which can be used as a soil improver in the garden.

This type of compost can be used as a replacement for peat based soil-improvers. Peat is removed from the top surface of soil in some areas e.g. East Anglia and cannot be replaced. Commercial compost bins are available from DIY and garden centres and local councils often offer discounts to encourage composting. Some authorities also collect this type of waste and make compost on a larger scale.

Activities: Compost Quiz; Where shall we put the rubbish?

Textiles take up around 4% of household waste. This is around £65 million worth! They can instead be re-used by other people through charity shops or car boot sales, or in clothing banks.

Activities: Where shall we put the rubbish?

Benefits of recycling
1. Packaging materials, with the exception of paper products, are designed to last to protect their contents. Therefore plastic, glass and metal containers do not rot readily when left in a landfill.

2. Packaging accounts for over 50% of our household waste. If this can be recycled, then the amount of material being landfilled will be reduced. The number of landfill sites, and the amount of land needed for such sites, would also be less.

3. Recycling packaging reduces the amount of raw materials needed to make new packaging.

  • 45 tonnes of bauxite (aluminium ore) is quarried to make 10 tonnes of aluminium
  • 10-17 trees are needed to make 1 tonne of paper

4. Using used packaging to make new packaging saves energy.

  • Making aluminium cans from used cans saves up to 95% of the energy needed to make them from ore
  • 587,000 tonnes of glass recycled in the UK in 2001 saved 202,515,000 kWh of energy, enough to drive a car round Earth 6,648 times

5. The energy saving from recycling one glass bottle will:

  • Power a 100 watt light bulb for almost and hour
  • Power a computer for 25 minutes
  • Power a colour TV for 20 minutes
  • Power a washing machine for 10 minutes

6. Using used packaging to make new packaging reduces its impact on the environment. For example over 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide is released in the environment when 10 tonnes of steel is made from iron ore. However, 75% less energy (and therefore less carbon dioxide) is needed with used steel cans.

Sponsored by Bankit, a Redfearn Glass Initiative