Why are we such wasters?
London’s recycling record is shameful. A bewildering array of rules and regs doesn’t help
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.
CO- ORDINATION IS THE KEY
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