* Green campaigner Laurel Spooner on the issue of recycling plastic

THE “Find Colchester’s Oldest Piece of Litter” competition finishes on Sunday.

Remember, there is a £100 prize for the winner who sends a photo, clearly showing the date, to matt.plummer@newsquest.co.uk

The competition ends on the last day of the Great British September Clean Up.

So get your rubber gloves on, come rain or shine, and stride out to do something everyone will appreciate.

What should we do with the litter we bag up on our forays?

The easy answer is put the recyclables in recycling and the non-recyclables in household waste.

Absolutely straightforward for glass and metal but, oh dear, for plastics much more complicated.

During my fanatical study of the subject, I have ended up dividing plastic litter into three piles: a YES pile, a NO pile and a MAYBE pile, because only around two thirds of plastic is clearly labelled.

If the green recycling triangle is there put it in the box for kerbside collection, BUT don’t be tempted to take it to the recycling centre when you are on a dump run because they don’t accept it there.

If the green triangle has a cross through it it’s obvious - into the black bag or wheelie bin, off with the general household waste which in our area goes to landfill.

In some parts of the country it is different and non-recyclable plastic is collected and sent to incinerators which sometimes capture the energy released or to processors which turn it into pellets for uses such as mixing with road surfacing and building materials.

So some of what is non-recyclable now, thanks to technology and the organisations who take advantage of it, will be recycled in future.

Unfortunately, due to the shortage of landfill and incineration in Essex, some north Essex waste companies have to pay European companies to ship their non-recyclable plastics to their power generating incinerators.

At certain times I have been told our national grid buys it back again!

The MAYBE recyclable plastic pile is labelled with messages like “Check local kerbside collections”.

Straightforward in Colchester as households have a card delivered and we can check at www.colchester.gov.uk/recycling-and-rubbish/ but bring on the time the rules becomes national and we get rid of local variation.

“Maybe recycled at larger stores” appears on plastic wrappers and bags.

I have taken them to “large stores” which say we don’t do that or we would if we were bigger.

Finally, the annoying label “not recycled yet”.

Well, maybe it is now, or if not now, when?

If there is no symbol at all it is best to assume it cannot be recycled but we need legislation to say every plastic item must be marked plus a tax on non-recyclable plastics (other than bio-plastics).

“The polluter pays” is a fair principle.

How odd that a product made from recycled plastic may also be marked non-recyclable.

It is because most plastic cannot be recycled more than three times because it is made of long chains of molecules called polymers arranged in flexible sheets.

With each reincarnation the chains get shorter so the material starts to rip on stretching or snap on bending.

Bio-plastics are excellent because they are fossil fuel free but actually they are never recyclable.

Don’t put them in with the recycling box because they act as contaminants.

If they are marked “compostable” they can go out with food waste or on your compost heap but they are NOT all compostable.

It’s all very well to say “read the instructions” or, in this case, the destructions but they are far from clear!

There was a good news plastics story in last week’s Essex County Standard.

In 20 months, Colchester Civic Society removed nearly 4,000 plastic strips from lamp-posts and telegraph poles across the town.

They had been used to put up statutory notices either never taken down or taken down without the ties.

County Hall has taken the message to heart promising staff will remove old notices with their ties.

It was also reported that the borough council is leaving grass to grow longer on verges and in parks with a mid autumn cut rather than one every three weeks.

Thanks to the Colchester Woodland Project, which is not just about trees but a healthy environment for thousands of species, 18 species of butterfly have already been spotted.

The last will still be around as you go about your litter picking so enjoy and thank you very much for joining in.