Why are we such wasters?

Lon­don’s re­cy­cling record is shame­ful. A be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of rules and regs doesn’t help

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - ES Homes and Property - - Environment - Leonie Cooper

WE HAVE to get bet­ter at re­cy­cling in Lon­don or we’ll drown in our own waste. We’ve all seen Blue Planet 2. If we don’t start re­cy­cling all those sin­gle-use plas­tic water and juice bot­tles we are, quite lit­er­ally, go­ing to suf­fo­cate the world.

Last week a re­port showed what can be done and what is be­ing done — in Nor­way. There, an as­ton­ish­ing 98 per cent of plas­tic bot­tles are be­ing re­cy­cled. This is partly pos­si­ble be­cause Nor­way in­sists they be made of only two types of re­cy­clable plas­tic. A de­sposit sys­tem ap­plies, which Nor­we­gian shop­pers get back when they re­turn bot­tles to par­tic­i­pat­ing shops. Spe­cial bins read the bot­tles’ bar­codes and credit the shop­per. The shop­keeprs love hav­ing these bins be­cause they bring more busi­ness into their shops. Nor­way is get­ting it right. Lon­don is not.

Lon­don ac­tu­ally has the worst re­cy­cling rates in Bri­tain. Weirdly, Lon­don’s re­cy­cling rates have broadly stayed the same for nearly a decade, so progress has been non-ex­is­tent.

A mul­ti­tude of sins makes re­cy­cling in Lon­don dif­fi­cult — flat liv­ing, flat rent­ing, lack of stor­age, con­fus­ing col­lec­tions, con­fus­ing rules, the con­fus­ing make-up of dif­fer­ent plas­tics and the tran­sient na­ture of our pop­u­la­tion.

Cur­rently, 50 per cent of Lon­don’s hous­ing stock is flats, and nearly a third of peo­ple in the pri­vate rented sec­tor have moved home in the past year. This does not con­jure much re­spon­si­bil­ity for your lo­cal area, as it is not your area for long, so who cares any­way.

Den­sity hasn’t stopped Milan from show­ing us how it’s done. This Ital­ian, city where 80 per cent of the 1.3 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion lives in high-rise build­ings, has man­aged to in­crease its re­cy­cling rate by over 50 per cent since 2011. What is Milan do­ing that Lon­don isn’t? It has suc­ceeded in get­ting peo­ple to re­cy­cle by is­su­ing clear in­struc­tions for col­lect­ing food waste, and fin­ing those who break the rules.

Lon­don’s big­gest prob­lem is achiev­ing con­sis­tency. Each bor­ough in the cap­i­tal has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent re­cy­cling regime. Move flat and the healthy re­cy­cling habits you de­vel­oped at one ad­dress sim­ply don’t ap­ply at your new home.


Waste and Re­sources Ac­tion Pro­gramme — Wrap — found that a flat re­cy­cling ser­vice yields 50 per cent less re­cy­cling than av­er­age homes with a doorstep col­lec­tion. Cam­den, which of­fers a full re­cy­cling ser­vice, in­clud­ing a weekly food waste col­lec­tion, has a re­cy­cling rate of just 27 per cent. Eal­ing re­port­edly saves be­tween £1.7 mil­lion and £2.3 mil­lion a year by trans­fer­ring dry re­cy­clable and food waste re­cy­cling out of resid­ual waste.

Dur­ing the Lon­don Assem­bly en­vi­ron­ment com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion into waste, Ve­o­lia, which pro­vides waste ser­vices to 40 per cent of Lon­don­ers, said: “Lon­don-wide co-or­di­na­tion with re­gard to re­cy­cling and sep­a­ra­tion of re­cy­clates should be en­cour­aged.” If only bor­oughs could bet­ter co­or­di­nate their rules and reg­u­la­tions to help re­duce con­fu­sion. Re­cy­cling in flats of­ten stalls be­cause of lim­ited pro­vi­sion, in­con­sis­tent re­cy­cling sys­tems and lack of in­cen­tives to re­duce black-bin waste.

Plas­tic aside, bor­oughs should col­lect food waste from all prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing flats; it makes up nearly 20 per cent of Lon­don’s to­tal waste. Yet fewer than half of our bor­oughs of­fer a sep­a­rate food waste ser­vice for flats, in­clud­ing some of the most densely pop­u­lated bor­oughs.

All bor­oughs should pro­vide seg­re­gated food waste col­lec­tion from all homes — this not only en­cour­ages peo­ple to waste less food (and there­fore save money), it also in­creases our abil­ity to re­cy­cle other waste and re­duces the amount of waste sent to land­fill, the most ex­pen­sive form of dis­posal, thus sav­ing the tax­payer money.

We have made shame­fully lit­tle progress in this city. The prob­lem goes far deeper than purely of­fer­ing ser­vices, its roots spread far and wide — in the man­u­fac­ture of plas­tic, our re­tailer re­spon­si­bil­ity, and our at­ti­tudes to­wards plas­tic, waste and re­cy­cling.

PLAS­TIC is too ex­pen­sive to waste. It is not a throw­away prod­uct. It should be treated with re­spect. If we throw it away we throw away our en­vi­ron­ment. At­ti­tudes must change. With the cur­rent mo­men­tum to re­duce plas­tic waste and to re­cy­cle more, the fu­ture might look less bleak. But we all need to con­tribute if we are to turn the tide.

We must turn the tide: plas­tic is ex­pen­sive and we need to stop re­gard­ing it as a throw­away prod­uct

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