Tower Hamlets’ action on climate change praised – but residents still unhappy about bin collections

Piles of rubbish bags on the Tower Hamlets street. Pic: Kunyu Wang

Tower Hamlets is facing criticism from residents over its waste management despite being named one of the best London boroughs for action taken against climate change.

One local community group – Spitalfields Town Council Campaign – has complained that Tower Hamlets council wastes its time “making pointless gestures on fashionable subjects but devote very little time to the local government matters like waste management”.

The spokesperson added: “What residents need is some locally raised money to be directed by an organisation in tune with local needs, and organised by people who actually live in the area they represent.”

“We could use the money raised either in the local government precept or through our modest portion of the ‘community infrastructure levy’ to acquire or lease a plot of land, yard or building which could be used as a waste store for recycling.” 

“The different waste firms would collect from a single location and businesses wanting to recycle would take their waste to this location.”

The environmental charity Friends of the Earth rated Tower Hamlets the fourth-best London attacking climate change, but did flag that it needs to pay more attention to sustainable waste management.

The Friends of the Earth review: “Tower Hamlets reuses, recycles and composts 26% of its household waste. This compares to the best figure of 35% in similar local authorities, while Wales has set its local authorities a target of 70% by 2025. English local authorities should aspire to the same figure, and all local authorities must aim even higher on a path to achieve zero waste.”

According to the Annual Residents’ Survey 2019 by Tower Hamlets council, only 63% of residents were satisfied with the collection services provided by the local council, in contrast to 79% of the national service satisfaction. The data also found an 8% decrease in the satisfaction level of recycling services, reaching a record low since 2016.

Earlier this year, Tower Hamlets became one of the first councils in the country to declare a climate emergency. To get domestic recycling done, the local authority is urging people to collect clear recycling sacks from Idea Stores and libraries by showing their proof of address.

One resident interviewed by Eastlondonlines raised questions as to whether this action would slow down the recycling process and make it “as hard as possible to do”, while others voiced their concerns over the feasibility of recycling collection day.

Jose Garcia, 38, who has lived in Tower Hamlets for over five years, said: “The recycling bags are left outside the properties to be collected on Fridays, but what happened is people start dropping recycling bags not on Friday morning but any day of the week. And some neighbours also leave non-recycling bags in there.”

He added: “The street is never cleaned and you can see bags of recycling and non-recycling rubbish on the daily bases every single week of the year.”

Jose and his partner have been complaining over this issue to the local authority for at least a year, but no action has been taken. They are now at the second stage of the complaint and will meet the councillor next Friday for further communication.

“This is not only a problem where I live,” said Jose. “If you walk around in the borough, the rubbish bags are anywhere.” 

“I have lived in many boroughs in the past and this is something that I have never seen anywhere. Tower Hamlets doesn’t seem to do anything to tackle this issue.”

The local council encourages residents to use an online system to report street problems, but this has been criticised for relying on locals to report waste management failures and never respond to the enquiry.

Tower Hamlets Council did not respond to requests for comment.

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