Recycling in Camden – a load of rubbish?

August 2, 2007 at 11:41 am

Camden Council seems to be taking green issues seriously. A comprehensive recycling programme which includes street and doorstep collections and recycling centres has encouraged a large proportion of residents to recycle their waste. But is Camden achieving what it has set out to do – to reduce damage to the environment by saving energy and water? The Council’s Sustainability Task Force thinks not. The task force, which includes representatives from all the political parties on the Council, believes current recycling initiatives are falling short of the ideal.

At present recyclate (recyclable material) is not sorted by householders, who can place paper, glass, cans, cardboard and plastic bottles in a “green box” which is collected weekly. It is this co-mingled waste which is causing concern. Alexis Rowell, the Liberal Democrat councillor who heads up the task force is “not convinced that what we are doing is the most environmentally friendly option,” adding “they brought in co-mingling to increase the tonnage, which we should not compromise, but is that the best way to recycle?” Another member, Maya de Souza, believes the laborious collection and sorting process could be using more energy than is being saved. A Green Party councillor as well as a member of campaign groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, she says “we need to be confident we are doing the right thing.”

Co-mingling of waste is a popular strategy with local authorities keen to increase the volume of waste destined for recycling, and to reduce the cost of hefty taxes by diverting rubbish from landfill, but increased tonnage comes at a price – a reduction in the quality of recyclate. Contaminated recyclate can even end up going to landfill after all – which makes the sorting and collection of material a huge waste of resources, both for the householder and local authority.

Camden’s task force wants the Council to review its policy, looking at ways to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place (for example, by helping manufacturers to eliminate unecessary packaging) and pushing the idea of quality recyclate. Chris Knight, another task force member, recently visited a glass recycling plant, based in Greenwich. He was surprised by the huge impact of contamination on the value of the end product. He comments: “White glass is worth money, but it keeps being contaminated by green and brown glass. Residents can use the on-street recycling bins to keep it separate.”

If the Council acts on the task force’s recommendations, a policy reframe is likely to be needed to secure Camden’s green credentials.

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