Recycling with the rag-and-bone man

Now I may be giving away my age here, but when I was a boy recycling meant leaving out any unwanted household items for the rag-and-bone man to collect.

This tradition actually harks back to the 19th century when a number of men forged an industry from collecting and selling unwanted household items.

Some of the more common items they would collect included rags which could be converted into fabric and animal bones which could be used to make fertilizer. Thus, they earned their name: the rag-and-bone men.

This bygone era has been immortalised through the much-loved classic BBC sitcom, Steptoe and Son.

Set in Oil Drum Lane, a fictional street in Shepherd’s Bush, a hapless father and son duo, with their horse, frequented the streets of west London looking for rich pickings.

I suppose you could say that good old Albert and Harold and their real-life forebears were among the first pioneers of the recycling industry, finding valuable items amongst apparent rubbish.

Today things have moved on from the horse and cart and our fleet of recycling trucks tour the borough twice a week collecting the things we no longer need.

How we live and shop has changed radically over the years and the sheer volume of things we need to dispose of has risen at quite an alarming rate.

Thankfully we have made great strides in the things that we can recycle: newspapers, glass, tins, plastic bottles, cartons and, in fact, the good news is that 70 per cent of a typical household’s waste can be recycled.  It’s truly remarkable to think that an old tin can could end up as a car part or that 25 plastic bottles could be used to make a fleece jacket.

Less waste needs to be incinerated or go to landfill and this is where the Council needs your help.

Over the past four years recycling rates in Kensington and Chelsea have steadily declined and less than a quarter of our household waste is currently being recycled.

Over the same period we have seen an increase in the amount of non-recyclable materials contaminating our clear recycling bags. Fixing this isn’t cheap and costs us £167 per tonne (compared with correctly bagged recycling which costs £25 per tonne).

So, here in this column, I’d like to make this plea: if you’ve just moved to the Royal Borough please take a just few moments to find out for yourself just how easy recycling is.  If you’ve been recycling for many years, firstly I’d like to say a big thank you, but also request that you spend a minute checking what can and cannot be recycled (lids for example cannot).

Perhaps also print out our guide to recycling, from our website, and stick it to the fridge.

Few would disagree that recycling is something that should just become part and parcel of our daily lives.  Not only is it good for the environment but it saves your money which can then go where it’s needed the most.

I’m sure we all agree that’s a win-win all round.

For more information on recycling visit


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