Opinion with Tricia Austin of Ramsgate Litter Forum & Thanet Green Party: Global Recycling Day

Rubbish Photo John Horton

Tricia Austin of Ramsgate Litter Forum & Thanet Green Party takes a look at recycling and how Thanet could do better.

Today (March 18) is Global Recycling Day, co-ordinated by the Global Recycling Foundation, who point out: “The waste stream continues to grow at a frightening rate which we cannot just ignore – or worse, pass on to future generations to handle.”

We don’t do very well on recycling in Thanet. In a national table of Local Authorities, we’re well into the bottom half – though in fairness many do far worse. A ‘perfect storm’ of factors make recycling a real challenge on the Isle, including:

  • many blocks of flats and HMOs with extremely limited storage for waste & recycling
  • some landlords who don’t provide either facilities or information
  • a high turnover of tenants in some areas, and lots of AirBNBs with short-stay visitors
  • high coastal winds that knock over recycling bins and spread the contents of boxes
  • almost no public recycling facilities, many withdrawn as a result of ‘misuse’
  • a Local Authority structure where Thanet council bears the brunt (in dealing with fly-tipped waste) of KCC’s decision to start charging for large loads at household waste sites.

The recent, apparently temporary, closure of public recycling facilities in Sainsburys’ at Westwood Cross (*facilities are expected to reopen in April according to the supermarket chain) has led to an outcry on local social media groups, highlighting just how many people with no household recycling collections were in the regular habit of taking a trip over to Westwood in private cars to drop their recyclables into the public bins. As an area that’s declared a Climate Emergency, surely we must reflect on how sustainable this arrangement is?

Are we a hopeless case, or can something be done? As Chair of Ramsgate Litter & Recycling Forum and a Green Party member, I have to believe we can improve! But it will take political will, at all levels of local government.

I know TDC’s Cabinet Member for Operational Services is reviewing waste services at present, so I have 5 recommendations for him to consider on Global Recycling Day:

Build a much closer relationship with KCC on household waste & recycling. Specifically:

  • help KCC establish reuse facilities at its waste sites, so useable items can go to local charities and good causes rather than being recycled or incinerated. Many other authorities do this; it doesn’t take a lot of space or staff time, and it can start to change people’s thinking about sustainability and product lifecycles.
  • get involved in local reuse initiatives too – Margate has a ‘Library of Things’ for swapping unwanted items, for example, and there are local Freecycle  & Freegle groups which would welcome Local Authority help & support.
  • agree on ways to disincentivise fly tipping. There’s a wide choice of strategies, from removing KCC charges through better information to CCTV and increased fines – but there are more proactive ones too. One local housing association runs ‘skip days’, for example, when householders can get rid of unwanted large items – but alongside this there’s a swapshop for things like children’s outgrown clothes, and experts on hand to help with furniture upcycling.

Conduct a complete review of recycling facilities in Thanet. 

  • Look at which properties have no kerbside recycling and why, and think creatively about shared facilities, smaller collection vehicles, lidded boxes so the contents don’t blow down the street (yes, slower to empty, but think of the saving on street cleansing!) Look at where local public recycling bins could be sited, in places that are secure and can be monitored, using attractive modern bins that make recycling more appealing and misuse more difficult. Think ‘why would we NOT make recycling available?’ rather than ‘why do it?’ Establish a clear strategy for increasing recycling rates, with challenging but achievable targets.

Thoroughly investigate ‘reverse vending’ machines

  • Consider providing them across the Isle, either working with retailers like Iceland that have trialled this in other areas, or perhaps as a joint authorities’ initiative with KCC. Something that incentivises people, particularly youngsters, to pick up cans & bottles and recycle them has got to be a win-win (though in time of pandemic it’d clearly need some extra safety checks.)

Never, ever again approve planning permission for any new build or conversion that does not have ample facilities for waste and recycling.

  • Ensure that staff tasked with working with ‘rogue landlords’ help those landlords advise tenants how to manage their waste, as it’s often these same tenants who are filling our street bins with domestic rubbish and recyclables simply because they don’t know what else to do with them.

Finally (and I’d say this to every portfolio holder in every Council in the land about every area of Local Authority activity), talk with your communities and listen to what they have to say about what works and what doesn’t in their local area. What works in Cliftonville might be disastrous in Ramsgate or vice versa, and Authorities don’t need a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Residents are entitled to parity of service, but that does not necessarily mean exactly the same service in all circumstances. Local ward councillors should be the eyes & ears of the Council here, acting as a conduit of information in both directions between council and communities to agree what works best locally.

Last but not least, I’d like to give a big shout out on Global Recycling Day to every individual who does their best to recycle their waste, and every Local Authority officer who works hard to help them do so. We can improve things if we carry on working together.


  1. Great article and a really important topic.

    I am sorry to say it but I’ve never lived anywhere as litter strewn as Ramsgate. Nor anywhere with so many wonderful volunteer litter pickers.

    It is depressing how litter strewn our beautiful town is.

  2. Why is it considered the landlords responsibility to advise tenants what to do with their waste? Whilst i can see there may be a valid point in respect of HMO’s , hostels etc. Where a tenant has a self contained house/flat and with it a council tax liability surely they have the same responsibilities as any person living in an owner occupied house/flat.

    As to some buildings having insufficient storage facilities, years of the council not checking that planning permission conditions have been complied with has led to many of the problems experienced today.

    Also where is the criticism of those who don’t give a monkeys about how they deal with their waste, the long list of finger pointing at all the faults seems to forget those who make no effort.

    However the biggest problem with recycling is that it expects all the work to be done by householders, surely its about time that the recycling industry was able to deal with raw waste just as any other industry has to deal with raw materials.

    Last and by no means least , the vast majority of the population are not dyed in the wool , evangelical , eco warriors and instead live normal lives, devising a system around the wants/abilities of the majority would be far more effective.

    • Landlords have a crucual role to play in this crisis, and if they don’t make it easy or compulsory for their tenants to recycle then they become part of the problem not the solution.

      • Hear, Hear Ian! I live in a road with some 84 houses, but at the beginning are some 10 or more houses that are tenanted, who seem to be baffled by Velcro! Last week I counted at least ten black plastic bags stacked outside one of these houses, because their Sea Gull Proof bag was full! Naturally these will get attacked by vermin, spreading their filth down the road, but they don’t seem to care. On another occasion I saw a young women sitting on her front doorstep, smoking a joint, as one neighbour put it, surrounded by 8 soiled nappies that had been pulled from her Sea Gull Proof Bag! I do not understand their mentality! On another occasion when I spoke to a young man about all of his filth being strewn down the road, he blamed the Sea Gulls, Duurh!

        • So your problem is not the landlords but the tenants he houses. The system does nothing much to force people like those you describe to improve their ways, similar scenes are a regular occurence in various parts of thanet, bottom end of Addington Street Margate is one that immediately springs to mind.
          Councils nor housing association don’t want to house them as they are too problematic , so they end up in the bottom rung of the private sector in housing thats far from the best but a blind eye is turned by the council as the last thing they want is the landlord shutting up shop and leaving the tenants as the councils responsibility to house.
          How you sort that out without wasting huge quantities of cash on those that have no regard for the homes they live in is a bit of a conundrum.

      • Again I have to ask why the landlord is responsible? The council is the body that is responsible for waste and recycling and deals with all the other users of the service, why is it not their responsibility also to deal with residents of tenanted properties?
        I actively encourage my tenants not to recycle. When i converted/ built my flats they were done to the required standard of the day and have the refuse facilities required at the time. But in those days the refuse crews would go to the bin store ( which was within a certain distance of the road, lit , handrail if required etc etc), but over the years that has ceased so now, tenants are expected to put their rubbish out for collection. As it turns out there will always be one that puts their rubbish in the store but doesn’t put it out on the right day, so it festers and rots. It became a common occurence in cliftonville. So landlords shut up the bin stores and left the tenants to their own devices. Loads of rubbish issues ensued, until eventually we got the bulk bins , which by and large work , with the council being pretty good at emptying them as they fill up.
        The council flats don’t require their tenants to put the rubbish on the road side , on some of the low rise blocks someone from the council unlocks the bin store and wheels the bins out for the refuse crew , so effectively a two tier service, that creates the impression that council tenants are better at dealing with their waste, where as they in fact get a preferential service paid for by all of us.
        In the case of converted buildings in thanet , many never had the provision of refuse storage facilities required under planning conditions checked as the planning department said they had no resources and it wasn’t a function of building control, hence some of the problems we have now.

  3. The same person that replaced all the electric civil enforcement vans with diesel ones,

    If the review of this is like the private hire licensing policy you’ll be waiting at least 5 years.

  4. “surely its about time that the recycling industry was able to deal with raw waste just as any other industry has to deal with raw materials….”
    A good point.
    When I unwrap my microwave meal, I have to check each piece of packaging.
    “Not currently recycled”. Then why use it?
    “Check local faciliies”. How? Where? Who? Why?
    “Widely recycled”. And so it should be.
    We can land rovers on the Moon and Mars. It really isn’t rocket science to use packaging that I can’t simply chuck in the blue bin.

    • Which is why many people don’t bother (i’m one of them) its tantamount to forced labour to be expected to prepare and process someone else’s raw materials for nothing. Paper/card and glass (unwashed) is as far as i’ll go. Though with the loss of the recycling points ( leaving out for the bin man just seems to result in ever more windblown litter) it all just goes in one of the Isles bulk bins as i’m enroute somewhere.
      The UK’s recycling industry is a farce , as the dumping scandals and waste dumps similar to that which burnt at westwood showed.
      Modern incineration to produce electricity or for district heating is the way forward for most waste. Not sure if its still the case but lots of Thanets waste used to go to europe to fuel their incinerators, how green are those transport costs?

      • Even if there is no guarantee that everything gets recycled surely it’s a no-brainer to have two separate waste bins at home. One for clean waste that might be recycled and the other (hopefully much smaller) bin for the genuine waste destined for landfill. Or is it still normal to accumulate health hazards in the form of piles of massive black sacks full of unfiltered waste?

        • As i’ve said in other posts, i did/do recycle clean card and paper along with clean glass, i have a compost bin for veg peelings etc. But of late the paper and card bins have been removed and often the glass bins are full, in which case it all goes in a bulk bin somewhere.
          Those who wish to spend their time going to greater lengths are welcome to do so, i’ll keep doing what i feel is reasonable.

        • In as much as i don’t believe in the whole recycling farce may be. Too many people are happy to ignore the exporting of useless waste to countries who then dump it, also ignore the stored and no recycles waste here ( places like that which burnt at westwood cross), similar to the notional gains we claim in respect of reduced co2 emissions which in reality we’ve just displaced to other parts of the globe whilst simultaneously shutting down our own industrial heritage. Eco idealism that does the planet as a whole no real good but makes our leaders and ecogreenies look good.
          However all my waste makes it into the system and never gets left as litter on the streets, paper ,card and clean glass gets recyclyed material that can be composted is, i’d make the bold state,ent that if everyone did as i did the environment would be better off than it is today and we’d have a much greener and more pleasant land.
          So perhaps i represent more of a solution than a problem, on a practical level which would be quite easy for all to follow and not need 3 refuse collections a day, the cost of which both financially and in terms of resources consumed will never be outweighed by the “recycling”.
          Stand outside a newsagents and watch the casual discarding of sweet and cigarette wrapping with no t the slightest effort to use the waste bins that are readily available, those people are your problem. As that attitude will continue everywhere they go.
          We have a biomass plant at richborough that burns tens of thousands of tonnes of wood a year, wood that they claimed would be sourced from the south east but much of which comes from wales, (all trucked in) that plant should have been a waste incinerator burning waste from around kent rather than denuding tree cover for the next 20 years, yes we’ll be told they are replanting at a greater rate , but that’ll be just a paper exercise .

          • None of my household rubbish gets left as “litter on the street” either. It is disgusting the way so many people don’t even recycle their leftover food despite having a food waste bin for the kitchen and one for outside. Let alone the indifference by many to the excessive packaging on the things they buy. let alone the amount of stuff they do buy.

        • Not at all, if people are to recycle as they are asked to then they are effectively forced to wash cans and bottles before putting them into the recycling system, i’m pretty sure they wouldn’t choose to do so otherwise so in reality they are forced to use their labour, water, detergents to comply. Not a form of words that are used to describe the process by the council and green campaigners but an accurate use of the english language never the less.

  5. I don’t feel anyone’s forcing me to wash things. I just feel it’s less unpleasant for other people if things are clean.

    • But if left unwashed, the materials are seen as contaminated and rejected for recycling so if you want to recycle you need to wash the items. As i said before the recycling industry needs to adapt to be able to use “raw materials” rather than rely on free labour to process its source materials.
      How much water and detergent would be used per annum if every household washed every pot/jar/tray etc before recycling? Enough i would guess to place considerable strain on the water supply system and again be another cost that should be taken into account in the whole recycling debate.

      • Where’s the problem with washing things? I wash them when I’ve finished the usual washing-up, and it takes no extra water.

  6. People create filth. Education together with a Council that genuinely cares, one that targets and provides ADEQUATE waste services and punishes those that abuse the system would work. The fact that we have pretty much NONE of these contributing factors results in what we see; filth, squalor and fly tipping EVERYWHERE. I find it the most anti-social blight of our beautiful Isle……it’s such a depressing sight which the Council NEVER seem able to ameliorate. What does it say about them? Incompetent and a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude to rubbish that’s what!

  7. Mindsets need to change. The council is just a facilitator in this process, not the originator, and we should all be pestering our council and our landlords to make things easier for us.

    Recycling is not a laborious chore, we should be doing it without even thinking. We should all be segregating our dirty and clean waste and kicking ourselves if our contaminated waste outweighs our clean waste. 

    The sudden and secretive closure of our public facility at Sainsbury’s was highly inconvenient and atrociously managed, but it has had some unintended consequences. It has brought together the victims (through social media) and exposed how dependent we had become on it. Yet the council seemed unaware of its existence and it was never mentioned on any recycling websites. Now that we are aware of each other we can campaign more effectively for better public facilities. And there’s no point in waiting for the results of any review, we should be setting the agenda ourselves and suggesting locations and availability of the desperately needed public bins.

  8. For years, supermarkets dished out millions of single use plastic carrier bags. Then, a couple of years after the Welsh government introduced a 5p charge, the English government came up to speed.
    Result? Use of carrier bags dropped by 85%
    A current problem is the cans and bottles we use for our drinks (About 7.7 BILLION water bottles each year in the UK) which have to be dealt with.
    We used to have to pay a small deposit on our lemonade (!!) bottles, refunded when returned.
    In many parts of Europe, there are schemes where you can get money back by recycling cans.
    Why is the UK in general and England in particular so slow at dealing with these problems?

    • Surely the sale of water bottles has dropped by 95 percent during lockdown? Or is the marketing so convincing that people think it is unsafe to drink tap water in their own homes?

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