The Recycling Maze

So you think that sorting all your household waste into different containers for recycling is complicated? You should try doing it when you can’t see the objects you’re sorting… Or the containers you’re supposed to put them in!

Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who can chuck all your recycling into one bin. That must be lovely. Meanwhile, the rest of us obediently separate our glass, metal, plastic and paper recycling and put each type into a different container as stipulated by our local authority. And it’s a two-stage process, which for me means endless bags in the kitchen and plastic boxes in the front garden.

I sometimes feel as though the only thing that grows in my front garden is recycling boxes!

I fill a carrier bag with glass and tin and, when it is full, carry it out the front of the house to empty into the orange box the council provided for the purpose. I also have a clear plastic bag hanging on my back door into which I put plastic recycling. The bag has to be transparent because the refuse collectors won’t take it if they can’t see what is in it. This I have to place on the street outside my front garden wall on the night before the collection.

Because all this is not enough, in addition I have a box in my office into which I put used paper and cardboard. When it gets so full that paper is spilling out all over the floor, I empty the contents into two boxes in my front garden. I have two boxes because I generate so much paper recycling, and this is partly because braille magazines are so big and bulky. They account for at least half my paper recycling output each fortnight.

Oh yes, and there is a wheely bin for everything else, plus a green plastic bin for garden waste.

Some years ago, I brailled a leaflet for Oxford City Council. This document gave information about what to put into which recycling bin and which days to put said bins out for emptying. I wasn’t asked to braille sticky labels to go on the bins and I wondered at the time how the visually-impaired recipient was going to distinguish the blue bin from the green and orange ones.

You might think, “Well, that’s easy, you just have to make sure you know which bin is which and keep them in the same position each week.”

Sadly, it isn’t that straightforward.

I have “assisted collections”. This means I don’t have to drag all my bins and boxes onto the pavement. The refuse people come into my garden and collect them. They are supposed to put them back where they found them.

You can guess what’s coming next, can’t you?

Do they put them back where they found them? Is the Pope a Baptist?

On a good week, the recycling crew put my recycling boxes neatly one inside the other and prop the lids upright inside the top box. This is when I’m profoundly grateful that colour coding plays no part in the process in Swindon. I only have to worry about separating the boxes, marrying them up to their lids and placing them in a row in front of my house.

Sometimes, though, the recyclers don’t bother to put the boxes together in this handy configuration. Instead, they sling the lids anywhere they take a fancy to and I have to walk gingerly round the garden, trying to locate them. Then I play “hunt the boxes” and, only then, can I put everything back in place ready for the next time.

I have to trust that the wheely bin and garden waste bin have been put back in their allotted spots as I have no way of knowing which is which.

Another slightly irritating issue is that, because my general rubbish bin is placed quite near the low wall between my front garden and the street, people passing by have a habit of throwing their pizza cartons and other rubbish into my bin. Now, this is better than them throwing their litter on the pavement, but the waste disposal crew won’t take anything that’s not wrapped up in a bag and I can’t tell what is lurking at the bottom of my bin. I can’t see it, and I have such short arms that I couldn’t reach in to find it in a month of Sundays. Fortunately, I have friends and family who can see and who reach in and remove the rubbish for me. They bag it up as required, though why rubbish has to be contained in this way when all the collectors have to do is tip the bin up remains a mystery to me.

I wouldn’t want you to think that I agonise over these matters day and night. I certainly want to protect the planet and so will continue to diligently separate the recycling into its constituent parts. Worrying about the boxes and bins is just another little niggle that stops my life from becoming too predictable and boring!