Judging by the torrent of abuse that some poor chap received on Monday when he innocently tweeted about Caroline Lucas picking up some litter in Brighton I am about to touch on a subject which is causing emotions to run high at the moment. For those of you outside of the city who may not have heard, Cityclean employees are currently involved in strike action in a dispute over their pay, leaving household waste to pile up all over the city.
The topic of household waste is something I feel strongly about so I am writing this post neither to condemn the actions of striking Cityclean employees, nor to criticise the city council, but just to share some information with you about community activities you might not have heard of which can help us reduce the amount of rubbish we throw away.
From my observations of the ever growing piles of rubbish outside the bins this week, the amount of cardboard, glass and tins currently poking out of bin bags is bad, seeing as these items are highly recyclable. For what is supposed to be an environmentally conscious city, Brighton has an embarrassingly low recycling rate; the latest figures I could find showed a rate of 27.45% vs a regional average of 35%, though I concede that these figures are actually fairly old. Every week I witness recyclable items sat outside communal bins and see the half-hearted attempts of my neighbours to use their recycling boxes, filling them with all manner of unrecyclable household waste. And it’s not even that difficult to separate these things out. Every so often a flyer comes through my door. The latest one is titled “What can I recycle and how do I organise my box?” It tells me that plastic bottles (with the lids removed), tin cans, cardboard and paper can go in and that glass bottles and household batteries should be kept separate. Rocket science it ain’t, but people still can’t get it right, filling their recycling boxes to the brim with plastic wrappers and Tetra Paks. Tetra Paks can in fact be recycled, and in Brighton & Hove this involves a walk to your nearest recycling point. There’s a list of council supported Tetra Pak bins here and from these points they are collected and sent for processing. The fibre can be recovered at paper recycling mills and the aluminium & polymer recycled in some cases too. Alternatively, you could keep hold of yours and grow plants in them instead. They provide fantastic drainage.
Conscientious community groups all over the city are working hard to reduce the amount we send to landfill too, with an awareness of the greenhouse gases caused. The Green Centre in East Brighton will take your red, green, blue, purple and orange milk bottle tops (leave these out of the recycling remember!) and send them to be made into garden furniture. They’ll also take your Danone and Activia yoghurt pots as well as coffee packaging, and recycle them through Terracycle into all manner of useful plastic items. For a list of other things that can be recycled through the centre, check out their Green A-Z, it’s fascinating.
There is rarely a good reason to throw away clothes, yet I’ve seen lots of fairly decent looking stuff in the bins this past week. Although I’m usually not uncomfortable rescuing things from dumpsters (I’ve taken tables, board games, food and many a plant pot that I’ve seen poking out of a communal bin.) I really can’t bring myself to rescue and wear anything from a bin so would prefer it if people didn’t chuck them out in the first place. There is a thriving market for 2nd hand clothing in Brighton, from car boots where you will find Urban Outfitters for 50p to the rows of charity shops along London Road, Western Road, George Street and of course my favourite, the second hand superstore Emmaus in Portslade.
The same goes for toys. There are people who can’t afford brand new toys for their kids so please donate yours to charity or 2nd hand shops (try Blatchington Road) once your kids have grown out of them.
So aside from all this stuff that can be recycled and reused, you can tell by the smell of the bins that they are full of decaying food. But also, (pardon the brief aside here) you can tell by the absence of a horrible sulphury smell, that the dozens of smashed eggs currently surrounding the bins were actually perfectly fine to eat. If you’ve ever smelt an egg that’s gone off, oh my, you will know about it. My mum got me into the habit of always giving eggs a whiff before I put them into my cake mix to check they’re ok. I’ve eaten eggs which are months past their use by date and I’m still here so my advice is not to pay too much attention to the dates stamped on them. Anyway, I digress.
If you knew that the food charity FareShare regularly provides food to over 3,500 people in our city who cannot afford to feed themselves and their families, would this make you think twice about throwing food away? We were all told to finish our dinners because of the starving children in Africa, but Oxfam have recently reported that 500,000 people in Britain are now reliant on food aid as well. A recent study by Brighton & Hove City Council highlighted that the average family with children spends £680 every year on food that ends up in the bin and at a Q&A a few weeks ago at the UK Green Film Festival, council leader Jason Kitcat highlighted this as a priority that needs to be urgently addressed in the city. That this is going on while people in our community are becoming increasingly dependent on food banks to feed their children should make us want to take immediate action and there are indeed ways that you can help. FareShare are running a Food Drive on 5th and 6th July at Tesco in Hove so do take part if you can and donate a tin or three. Going back to the bins, I can recommend the Love Food Hate Waste campaign which shares tons of ideas for using up food. Personally, I’m gradually getting better at giving my friends ideas for using their leftovers instead of simply telling them off.
On a more uplifting note, the latest Brighton & Hove Food Partnership News reports that more than 500 households are now involved in community composting in Brighton. Motivated by the bin strike I managed my first foray into community composting this week. I like food a lot, and work for said food charity, so am very conscious of keeping my food waste to a minimum. But I do drink a lot of coffee and always cut the green bits out of tomatoes. So I took my little pot of food waste along to the composting facilities at Dyke Road community garden on Monday where I was given advice on how to use the bins and the all-important top secret combination for the padlocks. Aside from the over enthusiastic welcoming committee of fruit flies, it felt good to be composting, though a peek into the bin as I deposited my grinds revealed a perfectly healthy little gem lettuce and an entire bunch of fresh spring onions which my friend promptly picked out and planted onto the community allotment. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but the combination appears to be the same for all my local community compost bins so I’m intending to use whichever bin is nearest bins including the brand new one round the corner from me in Vernon Terrace (yay). New schemes are planned for Wick Hall and Marine Square this summer and the Food Partnership maintains a map of local community compost schemes. That over 500 households in B&H are now signed up to a local composting scheme is pretty ace I think.
Thanks so much for reading my thoughts on waste in Brighton & Hove. Do you have any more ideas for reducing landfill waste? I’d be really glad if you’d share them below.
The trouble with rubbish is that mostly, it’s not rubbish so I just wanted to highlight that with a little bit of effort there’s so much you can do to reduce the amount of stuff going to landfill and clogging up the streets of our beautiful city.