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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
There are three different types of
plastic used in packaging. These are:
- Polyethylene Bottles (PET) Recycling
- 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
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.
- 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
packaging reduces the amount of raw materials
needed to make new packaging.
- 45 tonnes of bauxite (aluminium
ore) is quarried to make 10 tonnes
- 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.