We must do more to boost recycling

Aurora Yaacov from the North London Zero Waste campaign on what steps are needed to improve Enfield’s low recycling rate

Contaminated waste has been blamed for low recycling rates

A shocking 40% of paper, card, glass and plastics collected for recycling in Enfield was sent for incineration last year, up from only 5% two years before.

These figures were revealed by Enfield Council’s recycling team at an environment and climate action scrutiny panel in February. They explained that much more recycling was being rejected because of contamination with items like nappies, clothing, plastic bags and food waste being placed in recycling bins.

But how could contamination have increased by so much, so quickly? It is no coincidence that these massive increases in rejected recycling started in March 2020, when fortnightly collections were introduced, and when many people were obliged to work from home because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To address the situation, the council intends to issue warnings and fine
residents who contaminate bins; these are punitive measures which suggest
that the council sees the individual behaviour of residents as the problem, instead of recognising that council services and communications are in need of fixing.

Could it be that a lack of recycling facilities leads people to contaminate? Our borough has only ten clothing banks for its 340,000 residents, versus 70 in neighbouring Waltham Forest. Residents have to pay for garden waste
collections and are not given free food waste bin liners on a regular basis. Residents in flats don’t receive a low-cost recycling box to collect their recyclables, like they do in Islington. Instead, they have to use a plastic bag, often a black one, which is then flagged as contamination. Shared food waste bins are not pedal operated.

Could it be that Enfield Council’s guidance on recycling is incomplete,
ambiguous and even contradictory? The latest brochure that came through
our doors suggested that only plastic bottles are recyclable, while the website says that plastic pots, tubs and trays are also accepted. Information inside our blue-lid recycling bins is again different, and the bins themselves are not in distinct full colours.

Could it be that not enough effort is being made to reach Enfield’s diverse
communities? Not only in English but in other languages? From our own conversations we learnt that residents not well versed in English do not receive communications in Turkish, Bulgarian, Somali, Polish or Romanian, which are the most widely spoken languages in Enfield after English.

Could it be that residents are not informed of the many benefits of recycling, including more local jobs, lower council tax and less toxic pollution from the Edmonton incinerator?

Using the median cost for incineration we have estimated a cost of £650,000 per year for Enfield Council to incinerate its 7,000 tonnes of rejected recycling. This is on top of the £6.4million per year that we already pay to incinerate our waste. Unless something is done, this will grow to £11million
in five years, to pay off the new costly £755m Edmonton incinerator.
It is clear that what needs fixing is the council’s approach.

We, as a community of resident volunteers, are ready to support the council to make it happen. To start with, our group has delivered a survey to give residents a voice, consult them about ideas to supercharge recycling, and give their thoughts about incineration.

Readers can be part of the change by filling in our online survey. The
results will be available to residents and sent to the council before the May
election. But we will not stop there; we will keep putting new ideas on
the political map. Some measures will require investment, but on balance
the council’s finances will actually improve. The market value of recycled
waste is increasing, while incineration simply burns a valuable resource.
Enfield Council can and must do better. We will demand this in the local
elections this May.

Find out more and fill in the local recycling survey: