Recycle for Lewisham

A blog written for residents of Lewisham

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Lewisham’s recycling rate gets a mention

Yesterday Lewisham’s recycling rate was cited on the Guardian Environment Blog so I thought it would be appropriate to provide a response on our own blog (which was also mentioned). 

The first issue that needs raising is that the blog posting appears to favour incineration as a means of waste disposal, referencing Germany as an example of good practice. The blog then describes Lewisham’s recycling rate as miserable and poses the question “Do you actually like landfill tips, Lewisham?”. The latest comparable data (2008/9) shows that Lewisham has the 4th lowest rate of municipal waste sent to landfill in the country and an even lower rate for household waste at 3.72% (although this figure is now a couple of years old it is unlikely that it will have changed significantly). The majority of waste in Lewisham is incinerated, and that waste is turned into electricity which is in turn fed into the national grid. So the answer would be no we don’t like landfill tips. 

Secondly I would like to address the issue of our recycling rate of 16.8%, firstly this is a low recycling rate when compared to other Local Authorities nationally, however it is slightly unfair to be comparing the recycling rates in Lewisham with those in Staffordshire Moorlands (62%). The inner city demographics of Lewisham provide additional challenges in terms of sustainable waste management, including differing housing stocks, lack of and size of gardens and storage as well as a higher proportion of hard to engage groups with transient populations. 

It would perhaps be fairer to compare recycling rates in Lewisham with other London Local Authorities, where again at first sight Lewisham appears to be under performing. However if the figures are looked at in a bit more depth the situation is a more favourable. Looking at the first six months of 2009/10 data for dry recycling (excluding garden and food waste collection) shows that Lewisham is ranked the 7th best performer in terms of dry recycling collection at the kerbside across London.  

Why do we believe looking at the dry recycling rate is more relevant than the overall recycling rate? – In Lewisham we believe that our recycling collection (and therefore rate) should be viewed in the broader context of the impact on the environment and carbon reduction measures. The reason for many local authorities high recycling rates is the provision of food and garden waste collections, which by weight contribute significantly to the overall recycling rate (approximately 1/3 of your average household bin is organic waste – in Lewisham this is closer to 40%).  

We have previously laid out the reasons for not collecting food or garden waste on this blog, but it essentially boils down to the fact that it would be neither environmentally nor economically beneficial and would achieve nothing more than to artificially inflate our recycling rate. We prefer to encourage residents to reduce waste in the first instance and compost waste at home (especially food and garden waste) rather than give it to us to recycle/compost. We take the view this is a much more environmentally sound policy.Other local authorities who choose to provide food and garden waste collections and therefore boast much higher recycling/composting rates usually have very high overall waste per household figures, due to these collections. These authorities also have different drivers such as Landfill tax, so the monetary pressures heavily influence their decisions.  

In Lewisham we take sustainable waste management very seriously, we focus on waste minimisation as well as recycling by promoting the Love Food Hate Waste programme, Home Composting through composting workshops and offering free compost bins (last summer we ran 18 compost workshops and gave away 1,700 free compost bins), as well as running campaigns around real nappies, reusing shopping bags, not buying bottled water and stopping junk mail which all help in reducing waste in the waste stream. We believe the way in which we currently manage our waste is both responsible and sustainable.

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The Future of London’s Waste – Your chance to comment!


The Mayor of London has recently published his Municipal Waste Management Strategy for public consultation.  He is keen to get the views of as many Londoners as possible on this strategy, as the public are essential to delivering higher recycling, reduced waste and more reuse.

The Mayor wants London to become a world leader in waste management, utilising innovative techniques and technologies to minimise the impact of waste on our environment and to fully exploit its massive economic value. The aim is to reduce the amount of waste generated by the capital, repair and reuse what we can, significantly increase recycling and composting performance, and to generate energy in the most environmentally friendly way possible from rubbish that cannot be reused, recycled or composted.

Follow the link below to complete a survey and have the chance to express your opinions in open comment boxes, where your questions can be answered:

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What happens to my recycling?

This is a question that we often get asked, some people even ask if what they place in their green bins gets recycled at all!   Well the answer to this is … yes it does!

Lewisham use a method called “co-mingled collection” for our recycling services. This essentially means that as a resident you can place all of your recyclable materials (plastic bottles, cans & tins, paper & card, glass bottles & jars) into your green bin or box all mixed in together.

Other councils prefer to use a source segregated method of collection whereby residents are either asked to separate the materials into several different boxes (such as Bexley) or the operatives sort the materials into various compartments in the vehicle as part of the collection process (such as Hackney).

There is debate between authorities and academics as to which service provides the best value for money and the higher recycling yields, in Lewisham we believe that the service we provide makes recycling easy for residents and is both financially and environmentally the most sensible system. If you are interested in reading more about this debate, the most recent report published on the subject suggests that co-mingled collection produce higher recycling rates. Our Head of Environment, Nigel Tyrrell has also written an interesting piece on Lewisham’s Waste Strategy on local blog Brockley Central.

After all of the materials are collected using our recycling trucks they are taken to somewhere called a “Materials Recycling Facility” or MRF, here all of the materials are sorted and paled for further re-processing. The video below gives a simplified explanation of how this happens. Please excuse the cheesy American accent and remember that although the technology in our own MRF may be slightly different the general idea is the same.

If you are interested in having a 360 degree tour of the actual facility where we take our materials to in Greenwich you can do so here.

Hopefully this will help explain exactly what happens to your recycling once you put it in your green bin, if you have any questions feel free to ask us …


When will Lewisham get food waste recycling?

Lewisham currently doesn’t collect food waste for a number of reasons; currently Lewisham’s refuse (including food waste) is sent to SELCHP where it is incinerated and energy is recovered from it producing electricity which is then piped back into the national grid.

The ideal output for food waste if it were collected would be to take it to an Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant – the ultimate output being generate electricity (the same thing which is happening at present with the waste being sent to SELCHP).

Although there are additional benefits to AD including the production of compost and nutrient rich fertiliser, at present these benefits are outweighed by the prohibitive costs of purchasing food waste bins and caddies for all lewisham residents as well as additional vehicles and crews to collect the food waste.

This is coupled with the fact that there are currently no AD plants within a reasonable proximity to Lewisham, meaning that the environmental impact of transporting the food waste would also need to be thought about.

However, never say never … food waste is a valuable resource which can be utilised and should the situation arise when collecting food waste made both econmic and environmental sense I’m sure Lewisham would give it serious consideration!!

Lewisham Council’s Head of Environment (Nigel Tyrell) wrote an interesting piece on the boroughs waste strategy which addresses the issue of food waste along with other plans.