‘Thanks for trying’: Exhibition calls out bad recycling habits


Incorrect recycling costs the tax payer £2million each year in north London alone (Picture: Lucy Young)

How often do you go towards the bin, hesitate and question whether what you’re holding can actually be recycled?

We’ve all been guilty of making a quick guess and hoping for the best, then never giving it another moment’s thought, even though the impact of that decision doesn’t end there.

A short exhibition that’s been running in London’s Kings Cross over the last few days (ending today) has been calling for people to proactively think about what they chuck in the recycling, because getting it wrong does make a difference.

Called ‘Thanks For Trying’, the project sees artist Matt Kemp making use of ‘weird and wonderful’ items people have wrongly tried to recycle.

Featured in his work is an army helmet, dolls, reading glasses and fairy wings, which are just some of the strange items people have tried to recycle in recent weeks.

He says: ‘Recycling is now a part of all of our lives and this project aims to make people aware that with a little more care, we can be much more effective recyclers.

‘What we discard says a lot about us. Beauty and intrigue can be found in many of these items… they tell a story and we have the ability to give that story a more compelling ending.’


An army helmet, dolls, reading glasses and fairy wings are just some of the bizarre items that north Londoners have tried to recycle in recent weeks (Picture: Lucy Young)

The campaign was commissioned by North London Waste Authority, who say recycling confusion and contamination costs the taxpayer about £2million each year in north London alone.

In 2020, 15% of the materials collected in north London were contaminated with non-recyclables like nappies, food, clothes, or black bags of rubbish – this meant 18,000 tonnes of recycling went to waste.

It just goes to show how a small decision can have a much larger effect, unbeknownst to us.

A recent poll reveals 59% of people want to get better at recycling, showing most of us are aware there’s some improvement needed in our habits here.

The exhibition aims to raise awareness around how we recycle (Picture: Lucy Young)

Almost three in five admit to putting items in the recycling that they’re not sure are actually recyclable, and this rises among people under 34 years old.

Over a third of people try to recycle kitchen roll, two in five put broken drinks glasses and cookware in, and 19% put black plastic bin bags in – but not one of these items can be recycled.

Those involved with the exhibition say an ‘enthusiasm’ for recycling is clouding judgement over what should actually go in.

Councillor Clyde Loakes, says: ‘People are getting better at recycling and we’re really encouraged that most are trying to do the right thing, however we’re finding people’s enthusiasm for wanting to recycle even impractical items is having a serious impact on the recycling process.’


59% of us want to get better at recycling (Picture: Lucy Young)

The North London Waste Authority wants people to take an attitude of ‘if in doubt, leave it out’. They advise:

  • Make sure packaging is empty, and rinse off any food
  • Avoid putting black bin bags in with your recycling
  • If you’re not sure whether something is recyclable, best to put it in the waste bin

To catch the free exhibition in its final day, go to Kiosk N1C, 108 Lower Stable St, London N1C 4DQ before 3.30pm.

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