“I’ve started recycling Hilary, isn’t that enough?” Mrs Banks said to her daughter on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1995, but fast forward 24 years to 2019 and we still seem to be having trouble dealing with our rubbish in a way that is good for the planet.
Data taken from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show each of the London borough’s recycling rate, with Bexley being the best with over 50%of waste recycled, similar to its results in 2015/16. However, second placed Bromley is closing the gap, from a 5.7% difference back then to a 2.1% one now.
On the downside, Newham is impressively the worst at recycling in the past two years, falling from 14.7% to 14.1%.
You may well question how could recycling rates be so contrasting in one city? One of the reasons is that each local government district (or borough) has its own budget and different recycling systems.
The systems can be complicated, with different colour bins for different items depending on where you live. There are also variations on what can and cannot be recycled.
Another factor is population. Newham is densely populated and has some deprivation. It also is a transient area, with many people renting and moving on from flat to flat rather than buying a property. If occupants are not staying around for long, they have little incentive to understand the complicated recycling system.
The government’s new resources and waste strategy aims to simplify and bring consistency to the way households across the UK recycle. With these changes, alongside the new legal onus on the companies producing the waste, we should see an improvement.
Another map, with data again taken from Defra, shows that the boroughs with the highest recycling rates also have the highest household waste per person. In a time when preventing waste is better than recycling, we can see that this message needs to be communicated to even the most conscientious recycler. While Newham may have the lowest recycling rate, it also has a comparatively low amount of household waste compared to other areas in London.
What can we do to reduce waste? Environmental campaigners are now looking to reduce waste altogether rather than just recycle after recent disclosures that other countries are now refusing to accept the UK’s recycling and many items that have been sorted for recycling are being incinerated or end up in landfill.
How can we prevent waste?
Supermarkets are taking their time to reduce plastic packaging around fruit and vegetables, but you can still reduce your waste by:
• Signing up to a seasonal vegetable box delivery
• Using local social media groups to find local farmers markets
• Buying food from wholesalers and decanting into reusable containers
• Taking reusable containers to butchers, deli counters and bakeries
• Growing your own food and making your own bread!
• Looking out for zero packaging shops, such as NADA, which are springing up over the UK
• Refusing to buy plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups. If just one in ten of us did this once a week, we’d have 340 million less plastic bottles a year in circulation.
We also use 2.5 billion coffee cups a year. In order to make the paper coffee cup waterproof, the inside of the cup is lined with polyethylene which is tightly bonded to the paper. Due to this design, less than 1% of coffee cups are actually recycled, even though the cups have the universal recycling symbol on them.
As we learn about the limitations of recycling, it is empowering to know that as an individual there is a lot you can do to reduce waste. The London Mayor’s strategy aims at London becoming a zero-waste city by 2050.