Why is it so hard for students to recycle in Edinburgh?

Sustainability shouldn’t be difficult


Picture this: you have a massive essay due tomorrow. In a fog of stress, you head to Teviot to get it done. On the way out the door you remember – your flatmate asked you to take out the recycling. The only problem is, you live on Buccleuch Street – and your only available recycling bins are on Nicolson.

You're a good person. You don't hate the environment. But your essay is 50 per cent of your final mark, and if you don't finish it today you're totally screwed. You do what any stressed student would do. Chuck the recycling in the general waste bin right outside.

If this sympathetic yet preoccupied person sounds like you, you're not alone. I asked around, and only 61 per cent of Edinburgh students have recycling bins on their own street or feel like they can conveniently recycle.

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Sophia, a fourth year studying Linguistics, says: "I live in the middle of touristy Old Town so the normal bins aren't even right outside the flat, they're round the corner. The recycling bins are always locked shut because only the restaurants and bars are allowed to use them, and the other bins are always overflowing. It's really bad."

Phoebe, a second year studying Geography, lives in Marchmont and says: "We have no recycling on our street and we think it's unacceptable that it's about a four minute walk, in the wrong direction to anything, to our nearest recycling point."

Why students?

Students are a notoriously lazy group of people. There are some who will venture around the corner to throw away their paper and plastic, but it's a small number. The unfortunate truth is that most won’t make the sustainable choice unless it's the easy thing to do. That means a significant portion of Edinburgh's student population probably isn't recycling – out of sheer inconvenience.

20 per cent of residents in the whole of the South East of Edinburgh, which includes neighbourhoods like Newington and the Meadows, are students. A look at the bins in these wards reveals that not only do these areas have significantly fewer mixed recycling than general waste bins, but more commercial, deprived areas like Newington have even fewer.

The following maps compare available waste bins in sections of both Marchmont and Newington. The black circles represent general waste bins while the green circles represent mixed recycling bins. The other symbols represent glass, paper and food waste.

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Bins in Marchmont

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Bins in Newington

Why is it so important that student-heavy areas like Newington have access to waste separation? Recycling is important for every kind of household, but especially for those that produce a lot of waste. Student flats can house up to six people, and often flatmates don't share things that a typical family would, like groceries. Basically, if each person in a flat of three buys his or her own milk, that means triple the amount of milk cartons to throw away.

What can we do?

Environmental issues rarely have an easy or quick solution. However, in a major city like Edinburgh, all students should feel they can recycle easily.

We need more of these!

When contacted about the issue, the City of Edinburgh council told The Tab Edinburgh:

"We welcome the enthusiasm for recycling amongst those polled, and to provide communal recycling bins wherever possible, though sites are sometimes limited by factors such as available space and parking restrictions.

However, we recently began a project to enhance communal bin collections across the city, which aims to improve locations and collection frequency."

In an ideal world, anywhere there are multiple general waste bins, the City of Edinburgh could replace at least one of them with a mixed recycling bin and add a glass bin as well. This would not only make waste separation much easier for residents but would lead to an eventual decrease in the demand for general waste bins.

Helping the environment doesn’t have to be a major operation, or an all-out lifestyle. Make it easy for people, and sustainable habits will follow.