Lack of bins on trains leads to 10000s of tons of waste traveling to landfill

Over a billion journeys, but customers only get a single waste bin

Thousands of tonnes of rubbish which could have been recycled go straight to landfill every year because of a lack of recycling available on Britain’s trains.

There are over a billion and a half individual rail journeys in the UK every year, with passengers generating tonnes of waste products which are never recycled, a national waste company says.

That’s all because of a lack of choice on trains, says waste disposal experts

“Network Rail and the train franchises say they’re proud of the recycling records,” says company spokesman Mark Hall, “but the lack of on-board choice gives an empty ring to their words. They need to do more.”

Train drain

According to the Office of Rail and Road, rail passenger journeys rose to 1.759 billion in 2018-9.

And tens of millions of these journeys inevitably create some sort of on-board waste, says.

Among this rubbish, you’ll find food wrappers, food waste, newspapers and magazines, plastic drinks bottles, drinks cans, and the general detritus that comes with sitting in a railway carriage for any period of time.

“As you can see, it cries out to be recycled, but it all goes into the single general waste bin that you see on most trains and rail platforms which is never going to be recycled,”’s Mark Hall says.

That means there’s no inclination from the rail companies to separate this waste, so it all heads straight to landfill as general waste: “Nobody wants to fish apple cores and banana skins out of a plastic sack of old newspapers,” Hall says.

“That’s a direct cost to the rail companies as Landfill Tax, a cost that’s inevitably passed on to passengers. And it’s also a cost to us all as wasted resources,” he says.

Passengers want to recycle

There is a will among rail passengers to recycle their on-board waste. conducted a survey of 1500 rail passengers, and found:

82% of passengers would recycle their waste on board or on the platform if facilities existed
Only 9% of passengers say they take their recyclable waste home to put in their own bins
Alex from Basingstoke, who has a season ticket on South Western Railway is typical of views we heard: “I’d love to recycle things into different bins, but we only get the one on Class 450s. It’s a pain, but I’m not so passionate about it to carry a bag of rubbish to work or back home.

“I suppose we’re lucky to get bins at all,” he told Business Waste.

And that’s true – it wasn’t so long ago that you’d be hard-pushed to find any sort of bin on the railways, the result of Irish Republican terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s which found easy targets in bins and toilets on the UK’s railway networks.

But times change, and people want bins and more of them: “Once again we see a willingness from people to recycle if they get the chance and if it’s convenient,” says Mark Hall.

“And also, we see that people don’t tend to recycle if there’s an immediate inconvenience, such as taking their rubbish home with them.”

Train of thought wants train franchises to rethink their rolling stock and allow at least rudimentary facilities for recycling.

“Even if it’s a receptacle for free newspapers in the carriage vestibule, that would be a start,” says Mark Hall.

Free newspapers comprise the huge majority of train refuse, especially on rush hour services.

On long-distance, daytime and late evening routes, that rubbish is more likely to be food waste, and – again – there’s no way to dispose of drinks cans and plastic bottles separately.

“It doesn’t take much of a train of thought to boost recycling rates on trains at all,” says Hall.

“Although there might be initial costs refitting rolling stock and platforms with suitable receptacles, they will pay for themselves reasonably quickly with reduced Landfill Tax payments.”

It makes sense, and it’s what people want.

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