“Recycling is a waste of time”

A significant number of people in the United Kingdom still refuse to separate their waste despite local authorities – and in some cases – national law making it easier for them to do so.

These are the findings of a national waste and recycling-management company who asked the “refuseniks” why they can’t or won’t get involved in recycling, with many citing that it was all some sort of “con trick” or that it was too much trouble. Business Waste organisation found reasons from lack of enthusiasm, to a solid belief that global warming is a myth, as well as the opinion that they are not personally benefiting from the exercise. “Some of the explanations we heard were astonishing,” comments Business Waste spokesperson Mark Hall the results. “It wasn’t even members of the public who were expressing their doubts over the science behind the need to recycle – there were even company managers who are refusing to take part, even if it was hitting them in the pocket.”

A myth to keep people busy

The company spoke to dozens of members of the public; some were willing to speak about their opinion, experiences and reasons for their refusal:

  • Alex, who runs a medium-sized business in London: “I’m trying to run a company here, not save the planet. If the council wants to come along and separate out all my rubbish, then that’s their business”. When told he was actually paying more to have non-sorted rubbish removed, he replied: “We’re doing great, we can afford it.”
  • Geoffrey was typical of those who thought environmental issues are a myth: “It’s all made up, this global warming, isn’t it? I’m not going to waste my time if it’s something they’ve invented to put up our taxes. Show me the proof it’s not made up.”
  • “They just burn it or send it to China or something,” said Brendan. “It’s all a myth to keep us busy and not thinking about the really important stuff.”
  • Vanessa said she was too busy to spare the time for recycling her waste: “My local council gave me six bins for my waste. Six! I haven’t got time for that, so it all goes in the main one, and it serves them right.”
  • Lily, from the south coast: “I’m supposed to be putting all this effort into putting all my rubbish into different bins, but what do I get out of it? Nothing, that’s what I draw the line after I’ve been to the bottle bank, because they need that to make more glass.”
  • Vince, aged 68, gave the most pessimistic answer Business Waste heard during the survey: “I’m getting on a bit, and it’s all too much trouble and energy. By the time it all comes to a head, I’ll be dead and gone, so see if I care.”

After all, Business Waste found that a sizeable minority – around 18 per cent – do not recycle despite either a requirement or local facilities to do so. With the UK domestic recycling rate hovering at around 45 per cent for some years now, it’s becoming clear that some people may have “recycling fatigue” while large numbers never bought into the issue in the first place. According to Business Waste, the biggest is that while the science of climate change is universally accepted by academics it still appears to be up for grabs among some politicians, corporations and media outlets. Unfortunately, science isn’t that good at fighting its corner, which is why the loudest voices from the sceptical side tend to be heard first. “Our landfill sites are filling up fast, and it’s the millions who don’t – and sometimes won’t – ‘believe’ in recycling who are making the situation worse,” concludes Mark Hall. “There are now around seven billion of us sharing this planet, and resources aren’t going to last forever.” As Hall further states, the huge majority of businesses and organizations recycle their waste, simply because they have a financial interest in doing so: The less rubbish they send to landfill, the less landfill tax they pay.

However, most domestic users don’t have this inducement, and with a lack of bin inspections in some council areas, many people know that they can get away without recycling week after week. “It’s sad that people still think that opinion on recycling and green issues is still up for grabs,” says Hall. “It’s not: We need to recycle because it makes financial and environmental sense.” And he adds: “Unfortunately, we’re in a climate where even a single wind turbine provokes a storm of protest from green refuseniks.” So it would be high time the green industry fights back.


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