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So you want to be a recycling record breaker?

It’s national Recycle Week and to help promote it in Scotland we set a challenge for people to try to break the world record for sorting 200 mixed recyclable items. My attempt brought to mind some recent recycling headlines

Iain Gulland | 14 Sep 16

At a Recycle Week launch event on Saturday at the St Enoch Centre in Glasgow, brothers Liam and Adam Cassidy from Coatbridge succeeded in setting a new world best of 1 minute 49 seconds.  Congratulations to them!

I too had a go at setting the record, teaming up with Clyde 1 presenter Gina McKie.  Our best time of 1 minute 54 seconds was a good attempt – but unfortunately it was ruled invalid due to a stray passata carton ending up mixed in with the HDPE bottles.  Like many others who had a go, I too fell foul of putting the wrong thing in the wrong bin!

This raised a wry smile with me, not least as recycling contamination has been something of a hot topic in the news recently.  But it’s not just sour grapes that lead me to think it’s important we keep such things in perspective.

In Scotland we’ve transformed how we deal with waste, increasing recycling levels from just 4% before devolution to 43% today.  That’s a phenomenal effort, underpinned by a commitment from householders to do the right thing, and in most cases, by well-designed and well communicated services delivered by councils.

Our research at Zero Waste Scotland shows that contamination is a feature of all recycling services, even the best performing ones, but overall, contamination levels are relatively low.  What’s more, in most cases, it occurs as a result of people ‘trying too hard’, i.e. putting items – particularly plastics – in their recycling because they assume they are recyclable.

Although there’s room for improvement, wagging fingers and sensationalising the issue isn’t going to help.  Instead, there are some relatively simple steps that brands and councils can take to improve the information gap that results in motivated, well-intentioned householders getting it wrong.   Recycle Week is an opportunity to spread those messages and help people to brush up on what they can and can’t recycle.

Consistency is the buzz word and in Scotland local and national government have joined forces to introduce a national charter for recycling, with councils signing up to implementing a consistent approach to the materials they collect, how they collect them, and how they communicate with householders.  This is a big step, and while there’s some way to go, already over half of councils are on board, with more set to follow.

As well as helping to make recycling easier, the big prize with this approach will be the opportunity to do public engagement campaigns at other strategic initiatives at a much wider scale.  It will also make it easier for responsible retailers and manufacturers to promote correct recycling of their products.

What happens ‘beyond the bin’ is important too.  We also need more consistency in terms of what materials can be sorted and where.  A fragmented system risks undermining progress and it’s only by looking at the whole picture that we will maximise the benefits, in terms of jobs and economic opportunities that high quality recycling can bring.  So we all need to work together to make sure we continue to head in the right direction.

As for me, I’m sticking with the old mantra, ‘less haste, more speed’. If we stay diligent and aim to get things right, we’ll get to where we need to be sooner rather than later.

Visit www.recycleforscotland.com

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