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Questionnaire: Can You Tell Recycling Fact from Fiction?

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 15 Jan 2014 | comments*Discuss
Recycling Fact Fiction Trivia Statistics

Open the paper, click on a web site or listen to the TV and you’ll find yourself being bombarded with statistics, facts and trivia about recycling. A lot of it is really helpful and allows us to begin to get a grasp of the scale of the problem, even if we’ve never actually visited a recycling plant, or seen a landfill site. Few people have any sort of an idea what 30 million tonnes of waste really looks like – but talk about filling up an area the size of Lake Windermere and instantly we’ve all got the picture.

That’s all well and good, but how do you tell a genuine fact, from a great big fib? Is the UK’s waste really equivalent to the weight of three and a half million London buses or not, and could they actually form a queue that could circle the earth twice over – or only once? The trouble with all this kind of stuff is knowing what’s true, and what isn’t. As Mark Twain famously wrote, “there are lies, damned lies and statistics” – the trick is, of course, knowing which one you’re being presented with at any given time.

So, can you tell recycling fact from fiction? Here’s a quick little quiz to help you find out; the idea’s very simple, just have a look at the following statements and decide which ones sound right to you.

The answers are at the end – so good luck.

  • 1. On average we throw away nearly 140kg of food per person every year.
  • 2. Composting makes up less than 3% of the UK recycling effort.
  • 3. Recycling is always the most environmentally beneficial option.
  • 4. The UK recycling rate has more than doubled since the year 2000.
  • 5. Britain produces nearly double the EU average amount of waste per person per year.
  • 6. If you collected all the plastic bags given away in the UK over a year, you could cover the whole of London.
  • 7. About £3 million of aluminium is thrown away every year in the UK.
  • 8. If all of the UK’s waste aluminium was recycled, we’d need 14 million fewer dustbins.
  • 9. Every Christmas enough wrapping paper is thrown away to more than paper over the island of Guernsey.
  • 10. If the average household stacked the glass bottles and jars it used in a single year, one on top of another, it would reach as high as the summit of Snowdon.


1. True – that’s an annual UK total of 8.3 million tonnes of wasted food.

2. False – according to official figures, composting accounts for over 34% - and it’s rising.

3. False – sometimes it isn’t sensible to try to recycle some sorts of materials, particularly if they need to be transported a long way for reprocessing and reusing things yourself rather than recycling them can often be the greenest thing to do.

4. True – back then it was only around 9%.

5. False – we do produce more, but only slightly. The UK average of 592 kg/year is 15kg higher.

6. False – actually you could cover London not once but TWICE with all those bags, 17.5 billion of them, according to estimates!

7. False – incredibly, it’s more than ten times that amount, a staggering £36 million worth!

8. True – amazingly, it has been estimated that we would indeed fill 14 million fewer dustbins.

9. True – around 83 square kilometres of the stuff is binned every Christmas!

10. False – each household uses about 500 in a year; the stack might stretch to around 150 metres or so, but it hardly rivals the snow capped 1085 metres of Wales’ tallest peak!

So, How Did You Do?

  • All 10 – Clear-sighted!
  • 6 to 9 – Pretty clear!
  • 3 to 5 – Not quite sure!
  • 0 to 2 – Give us a clue!

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