Dublin City Council plans to install 16 new bins along the Clontarf promenade that will allow people to toss their litter into compartments for either recycling or general waste.

Most of the city’s litter bins are a single pot of mixed waste at the moment, limiting how much is recycled.

Eight of the new bins had been installed by Friday.

One was along the seafront promenade, next to where Frank Warren and Deirdre Diamond were sat on a bench.

Everything they had – a paper bag, napkins and coffee cups – could go in the recycling bin, said Diamond. “Otherwise, this would all have gone in a black bin.”

It was still a bit unclear to them what could go where. “It doesn’t say what’s recyclable,” says Warren, of the new bin.

Said Diamond: “I guess everything that you recycle at home.”

Most of the city’s bins will still be general waste only for the time being. The council isn’t planning any more segregated waste bins in the short term, said a council spokesperson. The Clontarf bins will be used as a trial for the future, they said.

The council will track how people use the bins, and how much waste is contaminated and unable to be recycled, they said. “Correct segregation is of upmost importance to the success of this pilot in Clontarf.”

Done Before

In November 2017, the council held a two-day recycling trial on Wolfe Tone Square and South King Street. They put out four bins, one each for paper, plastic, cans, and regular waste.

The bins weren’t used a lot, says the report at the time. But they were contaminated with non-recyclable coffee cups and household waste, it says.

Perhaps four bins had been too much, the report says. Instead, the council should mirror the two options most people have at home – recycling and general waste. As it has done in the Clontarf pilot.

The council also wanted to assess whether they could manage separated waste in its own waste depots, the report says. “To avoid co-mingling of waste, as current city centre depot configurations cannot easily accommodate separated waste streams.”

A council spokesperson said that waste from the council’s new Clontarf bins will be collected by council staff, brought to council depots, and sent on to contracted waste disposal and recovery facilities.

At the moment, the council is reviewing a bin policy and strategy for the city, and whether the council’s depots can collect and store segregated waste.

The depots have been able to handle the waste from a Circle City trial that the council is also involved in, said the spokesperson.

The Circle City bins project involves yellow bins in the city centre, where people can place their plastic bottles and cans to be recycled, which the council runs alongside Hubbub, a UK-based company that runs environmental projects.

The council said it was doing waste audits of the ongoing project, and a report would be published by Hubbub. Hubbub did not respond to a query sent Tuesday asking whether the report has been published yet.

Headed Where?

In 2019, Ireland recycled 37 percent of its municipal waste, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This was down from 38 percent in 2018, and 40 percent in 2016.

“Recycling rates remain worryingly low”, the report says. As the share of waste recycled fell, the amount incinerated was rising, the report says, reaching 46 percent in 2019.

Emily Williamson, a spokesperson for the EPA, says Ireland hasn’t yet finalised its 2020 figures on recycling.

In 2020, Ireland’s target was to recycle 50 percent of waste, as set by the EU’s Waste Framework Directive 2008, which has been transferred into Irish regulation. That’s a much higher percentage than the EPA reported in 2019.

That target does rise too in the coming years. In 2025, the target is for 55 percent of waste to be recycled, 60 percent in 2030, and 65 percent in 2035.

On-street waste makes up a small portion of municipal waste, says Declan Breen, spokesperson for MyWaste.ie, which provides information to people on how to manage their waste, for the Regional Waste Management Offices.

But it’s still good to have public recycling bins for the optics of recycling, he says.

“If you’re told to do one thing at home, and then you’re out on the street, and the rule is completely different, then why bother doing it at home?” says Breen.

If the streets have the same type of bins as at home, then you have the same behaviour happening everywhere, he says. “It just makes more sense in that respect.”

The Right Slot?

In the new bins in Clontarf, each bin has one section for recycling in the centre, and two sections for general waste on either side.

Walking home from work along the Clontarf promenade on Friday, Sarah Busby said she didn’t notice that the new bins had recycling hatches, facing the bay.

But she’s glad to see recycling bins and thinks they’ll be used, she says. “I definitely think people around here anyway will. I’m optimistic.”

Diamond, with her coffee cup, says that it should say on the bin what can be recycled or not, so that the bin doesn’t get contaminated.

Not all contaminated waste is written off, says Breen, the spokesperson for MyWaste.ie.

On-street recycling waste can actually be cleaner than home recycling waste, he says. “Because there’s not going to be as much food or liquid.”

There are two kinds of contamination: the wrong thing in the bin, and everything in the bin being dirty and wet, says Breen. The wrong things can get sorted at the waste facility.

But if an entire cup of coffee is emptied into an on-street recycling bin, the waste collectors might not send that bag to the waste depot, says Breen.

Catherine Stocker, a Social Democrats councillor, says it might take time for people to figure out how to recycle with public street bins, she says. “It might be where it starts out and people don’t use them effectively, and over time they learn to do so.”

The council should collect waste more often, she says, as it encourages contamination if the waste bin is full – people might then put general waste in the recycling bin because there’s nowhere else to put it.

Not Just This

“Its important that we provide options for everyone to dispose of their waste in a way that respects our biodiversity,” says Deirdre Heney, a Fianna Fáil councillor.

Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor say the city needs on-street recycling bins, because it needs to have all components of the circular economy, where more items are reused rather than thrown out.

“You should have an option to separate your waste. And public services, and public bodies, need to be promoting, as best as possible, separating and recycling waste,” she says.

Joe Costello, a Labour Party councillor, says that as well as on-street recycling bins, the council should provide more recycling bring centres in the city centre. “They need to be localised, adjacent to people, so they can easily access them.”

Stocker, the Social Democrats councillor, says that recently councillors in her area met with a provider of waste-return machines, where people can be paid for returning their recycling waste.

But even better than recycling waste in on-street bins or waste-return machines, is preventing waste being produced in the first place, which Stocker says should be tackled legislatively.

“I think we need to find better ways of not creating the rubbish in the first place,” she says. “We need a plastic tax.”

[UPDATED: This article was updated at 11.45am to add a quotation from a councillor that was accidentally removed during editing.]

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at claudia@dublininquirer.com.

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