Contaminated waste blamed for low recycling rates, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
Enfield Council is looking to boost recycling rates in blocks of flats in a bid to hit London-wide targets.
Figures show 17% of waste from the borough’s flats is currently being recycled compared to 55% of waste from homes with wheelie bins.
Contamination of recycling with other waste is having a “significant impact on recycling performance”, according to an update presented to the environment and climate action scrutiny panel on Tuesday.
In 2018, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan set a target for 50% of council-collected waste to be recycled by 2025. But only 33% of household waste in Enfield was sent for recycling, reuse or composting in 2020/21, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Speaking during Tuesday’s meeting, Jon Sharkey, the council’s head of public realm services, said recycling contamination rates had “massively increased” during the Covid-19 pandemic but had started to decline over the past few months following work by the council’s “outreach programme”.
He said the civic centre was using “targeted communications” across the borough to improve recycling among groups that were performing badly. In addition, a trial scheme designed to boost recycling in flats had “significantly improved” contamination rates.
Jon said fly-tipping rates in 2021/22 had dropped below the previous year’s totals and were “back to the levels that they were pre-pandemic”. Figures contained in the update also show a rise in the number of penalties issued for fly-tipping after the council launched a crackdown on illegal dumping in July last year.
Following the presentation, Conservative panel member Andrew Thorp pointed out that Bexley Council was recycling 50% of household waste and said Enfield seemed to be underperforming compared to other boroughs.
In response, Doug Wilkinson, the council’s director of environment, said Enfield was performing “reasonably well” compared to its geographical neighbours. The latest figures from Defra show Enfield has the highest recycling rate of the seven boroughs that make up the North London Waste Authority.
Pointing out that actual fly-tipping could be higher than reported levels, Cllr Thorp also called for more data to be provided, alongside details on the impact of the shift to fortnightly bin collections in March 2020, shortly before the first pandemic lockdown.
Labour panel member Ayten Guzel said that in addition to focusing on council estates, officers needed to work with managing agents on private estates to reduce contamination.
Jon replied that the council was using the trial to show that recycling rates could be improved in flats, and that would serve as a benchmark for its work with private estates.
Daniel Anderson, an independent councillor and member of the Community First group, said the council faced “almost impossible” targets set by City Hall. He added: “Those targets seem to be unachievable, and it seems to be an unfair target set upon yourselves.”
Cllr Anderson pointed out that private companies were also contributing to the problems faced by the council by producing non-recyclable waste in the first place.
Doug said that he was not scared of having “aspirational” targets, adding “we’ve got to do drastic things on this planet to save this planet”.
Over the coming months, the council will continue its engagement programme with residents and roll out the trial recycling programme on estates to up to 60 sites.
It also aims to introduce recycling bins in four parks that will allow people to recycle ‘on the go’ items such as plastic, glass bottles and cans.