Depending on where you are in the capital, you might assume London was on the leading edge of recycling efforts judging from the number of bins and containers on some streets.
However according to a report released earlier this year by DEFRA, the department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London is still failing miserably to keep up with national and international recycling trends.
The report, published in June of this year, shows that while the UK on average recycled an already dismal 40% of its waste, London’s figure was far worse at around 30%.
There are significant differences between London’s boroughs as well. Most central London areas recycled less than 30% of their waste in 2009 (some as little as 15%), while a few boroughs in the outskirts, namely Harrow, Bexley and Kingston upon Thames, had recycling rates of more than 45%.
The highest reported recycling rate in the country was 61% in Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (West Midlands).
Waste Watch, a London organization that promotes more sustainable living, says the reason has a lot do with how people live. “The city only recently started to address the issue of how to collect recycling more effectively from high-rise buildings,” said Dan Write, the sustainability coordinator at Waste Watch.
According to the London Waste and Recycling Board, flats and multi-occupancy buildings account for around 50 per cent of all housing in London but recycling collected from these properties currently stands at 10 per cent.
Nicola Dillon of the Mayor of London’s office says the city is responding to the need to make recycling more accesible to high-rise residents: “The London Waste and Recycling Board are investing £5m in improving recycling facilities in flats,” she said.
This includes £1.35 million announced in 2010 and a further £3.7 million announced in March, targeted at poor performing boroughs.
Some of the funds will go towards new food waste recycling facilities, underground recycling storage systems and a recycling incentive scheme – which rewards residents with points which can be exchanged for eco goods or community projects.
These initiatives should result in 32,000 tonnes of waste being recycled instead of dumped in landfill over the course of four years, the board said.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said: “I cannot think of any better incentive for people to recycle than being able to invest in their community as a return. I have always been a huge enthusiast for this kind of scheme which revolutionises the way people think about recycling.”
In the latest response to the recycling debacle, Boris Johnson proposed two weeks ago a new approach to reducing waste: combining recycling objectives with goals to reduce greenhouse gas emmissions.
By 2015, the Mayor also announced, he wants the capital to be recycling at least 45 per cent of its municipal waste rising to 60 per cent by 2031, sending zero municipal waste to landfill by 2025.
The DEFRA report also sends a mixed picture on the state of the nation’s waste management. We are producing less waste overall, with the amount of waste per household declining, yet nearly half of that still ends up dumped in landfills.
The proportion of waste from packaging is growing, a sign perhaps of our continued love-affair with heavily marketed and branded products. However an increasing proportion of it is being recycled (67% in 2009).
Business also seems to be better at reducing waste than households: industrial and commercial waste has declined overall and less than 30% of it headed for landfills in 2009, while nearly 60% was recycled.
The UK as a whole is far from taking leadership across the EU. The report shows that 10 countries sent significantly less waste to landfills in 2009 and 7 were much better recyclers of their waste.
Germany, Austria and the Netherlands sent almost no waste to landfills in 2009 while Sweden, Denmark and Belgium each sent less than 10%. Germany, Austria and the Netherlands also recycled more than 70% of their waste, incinerating the rest.