Rage Against the Council: Why Recycling in Flat Blocks Sucks

This is an pretty old post from my blog, which has been preserved in case its content is of any interest. You might want to go back to the homepage to see some more recent stuff.

A few minutes ago, I attempted the simple task of taking out a bag full of recycling.  Having circumnavigated the car that some thoughless Mazda-driver saw fit to park in front of the area where our recycling bins are kept, I discovered this:

Overflowing Recycling Bins

Not only is there no way I could fit my recycling into these bins, but each and every one – ten in total – is marked with a “Contaminated” sticker, meaning that the collection people saw something they didn’t like in every bin, and refuse to collect any of them until the management company of our flat block pays the council to take them to a landfill site.

This left me with two options – dump my recycling (in its non-recyclable bin-bag) on the ground and hope that someone helpfully puts it in a recycling bin once they are emptied, or the only realistic option: put them straight in the rubbish bins myself, immediately wasting all the effort my family put into separating them from non-recyclable waste.

Contaminated Container Sticker

Now I spent a year of my life working on technology for Material Reclamation Facilities – the big sorting depots where your recycling ends up.  For better or worse (it’s a weird thing to be geeky about) I know exactly what can and cannot be recycled locally, what happens to it when it is, and what happens to any “contamination” that makes it through. For my sins, I even know what all the numbered codes on plastic bottles mean.  The net result is that my family and I are meticulous about what gets put out for recycling.  I would happily bet that none of the contamination is our fault.

But this isn’t a “boo-hoo, I have to pay and it’s not my fault” rant.  The fact of the matter is, I live in a block of 93 flats.  Someone in one of those flats is going to be too lazy to sort their recycling or take it out of plastic bags.  Someone is going to be unable to read the signs, or just to not care.  Probably not just “someone” but quite a lot of people.  It’s unavoidable.

The council system is simply broken for large flat blocks.

If a single family house gets their bin marked as “contaminated” and has to pay to have it taken away, maybe they’ll learn.  But given human nature, a block of 93 flats is always going to have contaminated bins, every single week.

Either the process needs to change, collectors need to be more tolerant of contamination, or else there’s no point giving us recycling bins at all.  Just let us put it all out for rubbish and damn the environment, because that’s what happens now, only right now it takes much longer and costs us all a lot more money.


I have the same problem, we have 54 flats in our estate and every week we get 5 or more contaminated bins, then we get charged &#16320 a bin and this is split between 54 flats, not fair at all. Is this even legal, how would they take us to court without any proof of who done it.

Hi Ian
We own a flat near Gravesend which we let to tenants. I have tried to get recycling on the agenda, so far without success. The managing agents for the block say that when they speak to council staff, they secretly admit that it is almost impossible to recycle at apartment blocks, because if only one item that is non-recyclable is put in the recycling bin, the whole bin is regarded as contaminated and they take it as general waste.
I live in the Vale of Glamorgan. All our recyclable waste is collected from Blue bags (we don't need to segregate) and transported to Cardiff, where it is manually separated. Why can't councils nationally follow best practice in different parts of the country?
Cheers Phil Tandy

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