Tower Hamlets vs Lewisham: The best vs. the worst food waste offender

Pic: Bluebudgie

Reported by Holly Pyne and Khalid Azizuddin

London creates 900,000 tonnes of food waste every year; that’s the weight of nearly seven blue whales. But what about the boroughs themselves?

Tower Hamlets is the least wasteful local authority in the country with residents only producing 246 tonnes of total household waste per 1000 people. When it comes to food waste, Tower Hamlets remains on top, with residents only creating an estimate of 74.3 tonnes of food waste per 1000 people.

Tower Hamlets produces the least amount of waste in London compared to Barking, who produces the most. Pic. Lucinda Diamond

Lewisham is the worst offender within the ELL boroughs, creating an estimated 100.9 tonnes of food waste. On top of that, the borough has recorded consistently poor recycling rates which bottomed out in 2015, when it had the worst rates in London, recycling only 17 per cent.

The latest figures show Lewisham to be the third worst local authority in the country for recycling, having increased its recycling rate by one percentage point to 18 per cent.

Food waste collection was fully introduced in Lewisham at the end of last year. This was an attempt to improve their recycling rates after the council recognised that it consistently fared worse than boroughs with “similar population and density”.

Councillor Rachel Okinosi, the Cabinet Member for the Public Realm, addresses these poor rates, saying: “It should be noted that Lewisham burns the majority of its waste, rather than send it to landfill unlike some Local Authorities with higher recycling rate.”

Incinerators are used to create electricity and heat from the waste by burning it to produce steam. These EfW incinerators use the steam to turn turbines and generate power. Some of the ash and other residue is recycled, but it does leave a collection of remains which are hazardous and these are still sent to landfill.

This time, Lewisham comes out on top by incinerating the most waste in the country, alongside Westminster. Incinerators are used for 82 per cent of all waste in these boroughs.

Using incineration to generate electricity creates around 33 per cent more carbon dioxide than a typical gas-fired power station, according to Friends of the Earth.

Catriona Currie, Friends of the Earth’s London campaigner, said: “Incinerating waste is bad for our environment. Incineration produces greenhouse gas emissions and wastes valuable resources that could otherwise be salvaged through recycling.

“Local councils need to do more to support residents to recycle – through providing better door to door recycling for all residents, including those living in flats and rented accommodation.”

Tower Hamlets does not perform much better in this respect as it sent 75.5 per cent of all their waste to incinerators last year, with only 21.6 per cent of waste recycled. This makes them the fourth worst council in the country for incinerating waste.

Two million tonnes of London’s waste were sent to incinerators in the last year, which is more than double what it was a decade ago, a report from London Assembly’s Environment Committee found.

Tower Hamlets council said: “One of the benefits of this method is that we recover energy from the waste that’s treated through incineration and this can be fed back into the local London grid, as well as allowing metals and bottom ash from the process to be recycled. In addition, this process means that we avoid transporting waste out of London and into landfill sites.”

When ELL talked to Lewisham residents about food waste recycling, most were concerned about the collection process rather than what happens beyond that.

Tayo Andrews

Tayo Andrews, 21, from Crofton Park complained that collection happened too infrequently, with whole weeks without any collection at all. He said: “We ended up putting all the food waste in the general bin, just so they would get taken. Even with a household of 5 people, which is probably about the average, we have at least two bins worth of food waste every week. Either they make the bins bigger or they make collections more often.”

Jason Jones, 39, a construction worker from Brockley Rise said: “The outdoor food bin attracts all types of vermin like foxes, rats and dogs. Even though its locked, the lid can be pushed right off. Not many people know this, but dogs can’t eat cooked chicken bones because it splinters and pierces their insides. And from rats you can get Weil’s Disease, where your skin gets all yellow and you die a horrible death. I do road construction and see this happen all the time!”

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