Compulsory tone emerges for London recycling

By Chris Sloley 

Councils have claimed that the use of compulsory recycling rates is a good way of kick-starting stalled or low-level recycling rates during a panel discussion at this week's (January 26) London Conference.


The majority of people are worrying about money and if we increase our recycling rate that's great but it also means a saving

Matthew Homer, London borough of Islington

Speaking at the event, Matthew Homer, waste strategy and support manager at the London borough of Islington, explained that the local authority had decided to adopt the system after its recycling and composting rate plateaued at 30%.

Mr Homer, who drew heavily on the behavioural change notion of ‘nudging', cited several examples of various local authorities that have already introduced a compulsory scheme and said that they had seen increased participation levels and recycling rates.

Islington, which agreed to adopt the system in December 2010 (see story), follows the efforts of councils such as Barnet, Hackney and Waltham Forest, among others, to introduce compulsory recycling.

“I think incentive schemes will cost you money and I think there is a question mark over the effectiveness of incentive schemes,” he said. “I think that they work up to a point but only up to a point. We in Islington have taken the step to introduce compulsory recycling and there are a number of boroughs which have done so.”


Under a compulsory scheme, residents could face a fixed penalty notice of up to £110 for failing to recycling material at the kerbside. The fixed penalty notice can be issued under Section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Furthermore, Mr Homer said that putting the impacts of recycling – or failing to recycle, as the case may be – into financial terms had a greater impact on improving participation than explaining to residents the environmental benefits of recycling.

“Money is the issue now, it is the nature of the beast,” he said. “It will impact everything going forward. The majority of people are worrying about money and if we increase our recycling rate by 1% that's great but it also means a saving of £51,000 on disposal costs.”


And while the coalition government has emerged as a strong advocate of incentive schemes, Mr Homer received a large amount of backing from the floor, both from those in favour of compulsory schemes and from those opposed to systems which reward residents for carrying out a “normal task”.

Andrew Baker, head of climate change strategy at the London borough of Harrow, said: “Compulsory recycling in Harrow has been something that has been supported by all [political] parties. We also went to alternate week on the residual waste as that gives your residents the incentive to recycle.”

Also in the discussion, Wayne Hubbard, head of business development at the London Waste and Recycling Board, who said it was difficult to find the best level at which rewards-based schemes would create behaviour change. However, he said he felt “uneasy” by the use of compulsory schemes.

And, Mr Hubbard asked the panel whether they thought a London-wide incentive scheme would help promote the rewards-based method.

Also speaking in the session, Eve Risbridger, head of street scene at the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, outlined that the local authority was currently considering the adoption of an incentive scheme based on waste reduction but could offer no further details at this stage.

Ms Risbridger also gave an extensive outline of the West London council's trials and tribulations with service changes over the past four years. The council is currently gearing up to add a wider range of materials to its kerbside service (see story) and also overhaul its flats and estates recycling programme (see story).

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