Lewisham is the worst borough in the country for recycling and could face “significant” fines if it doesn’t improve its recycling rate. The latest council figures show the rate has dropped from 17.7 per cent in 2013-2014 to just 17.05 per cent in 2014-15.
The Government are working towards a national rate of 50 per cent by 2020. Rachel Onikosi, Councillor for Sydenham, said a fine seems “unlikely” as “taking even more money from cash-strapped local councils would not help.”
The recycling rate for the same period in Hackney stands at 25.4 per cent. This year’s figures for Tower Hamlets and Croydon have not yet been released but were 28 per cent and 43.5 per cent in 2013-14, respectively.
When Lewisham resident Ray Woolford, founder of We Care Food Banks, asked about the “poor record that shames our borough” at a council meeting in January, Onikosi blamed “people putting the wrong things in the recycling bin.”
“Unfortunately, not all Lewisham residents are environmentally minded and we have contamination [rates] that over the past 12 months have averaged at 20 per cent, despite the communications programme that we have in place,” Onikosi said.
Council statistics claim 18,000 tonnes are collected for recycling annually in Lewisham, of which 3,000 tonnes are contaminated and unfit for recycling.
A recent report commissioned by the council has cited recycling as potential area for cost saving with councils “less able to handle large fluctuations in disposal charges”. Onikosi said “the council needs to protect our vulnerable citizens, there’s only one pot of money, so we need to be very careful.”
A consultation on potential waste and recycling service collections undertaken this summer advised that recycling could save the borough money.
The report said: “It is becoming more expensive to dispose of waste and it costs the council less to dispose of material through recycling and composting compared with incineration. The council could also get an income from selling some good quality materials that are recycled, for example paper.”
Statistics show that Lewisham Council already saved an estimated £2m in 2014-15 by incinerating waste instead of sending it to a landfill.
But with just 0.3 per cent of Lewisham’s waste going to landfill, this is not expected to be a viable area for improvement.
The summer consultation also advised food waste collection could be key to improving the borough’s poor recycling rate.
The report said: “There could also be significant gains both in performance and environmental impact on collecting food waste. By the very nature of collecting food waste people often see how much is being wasted and change their habits to reduce their waste accordingly. Further, collecting food waste produces biogas providing a source of renewable energy that is carbon neutral and a fertiliser rich in nitrogen.”