Recycling is a hot topic - there's no way we could even be thinking about "zero waste" without it. Yet how many people cheerfully fill up their blue bin, put it out every fortnight, and think no more about it? How many people are clamouring to be able to recycle plastics, Tetra packs, foil, batteries and all sorts of other things from the comfort of their own doorstep? After all there's nothing to lose - it all gets taken away and dealt with in a green way, and you don't have to worry about it.
The current global financial climate means that markets for recyclables (i.e. the contents of our recycling bins) are reducing or disappearing (as reported in this Times article today). Councils are having to store collected materials in the hope that prices will recover and they can sell them before long, but so much is being stored that a relaxation in storage regulations is being considered. The councils' whole recycling systems are built on the idea that someone, somewhere finds used newspapers/plastic bottles/steel cans a useful resource and is willing to pay for it. That income then helps pay for the recycling collections, centres, etc.
Now, that income is falling or disappearing. Less stuff is being manufactured, so less material is needed. As well as the question of where we can put all the stuff that is piling up, it seems that this could have implications for council coffers (some already under pressure following the Icelandic banking problems) if it continues, at least in terms of recycling services.
What sometimes seems a bit forgotten, and is not always emphasised enough in official recycling literature, is this. Recycling is called recycling because there is a cycle involved. Check out the logo! (One major exception was the series of TV ads remindng us that "the possibilities are endless" and that today's drinks can could be tomorrow's aeroplane... or drinks can. That campaign is now over.) But I think the constant (often negative) media focus on fortnightly collections and differing council policies detracts from that message, and makes it seem like recycling is "just about the bin".
For recycling to work, there has to be something completing the cycle, filling in the bit that goes from our recycling bin to the stuff we buy. How many people forget that bit when out shopping? Some things, like recycled kitchen roll, are pretty much mainstream, but other recycled things are still sold as "special", almost novelty items. Pens that tell you they are made from old drinks cups. Fleeces that are badged as being from plastic drinks bottles. Wouldn't it be great if these things were the norm, and you had to have stickers on things that were made from virgin materials instead? If everyday people, who didn't consider themselves "green", were supporting the market in recyclables without even knowing it? This already happens with some things, such as newspapers and food/drink can - is there any way the same can be done for other materials?
Our responsibility for an item doesn't end when we pop it in the blue bin. Without consumer demand for recycled items, that bottle or cardboard box you're about to put out could have nowhere to go. I'm not saying buy more - but collectively we could perhaps buy better?