Cllr Peter Craske is the Cabinet Member for Places on Bexley Council.
In January, it was reported by Lets Recycle Magazine that the Mayor of London had only signed off three agreements with London Boroughs on recycling. It was concerned that none of the plans were clear about how they would help get London’s feeble recycling rate of 33 per cent to over 50 per cent by 2025.
I was a bit baffled – why hadn’t our plan been signed off? We’ve been recycling over 50 per cent of waste for over ten years.
My heart then sunk further when I saw a quote from London Councils claiming that the boroughs would never be able to increase recycling rates without – yes, you’ve guessed it – more Government funding.
What? Why can’t you do it without funding from the Government?
In the London Borough of Bexley we have been sending 50 per cent of waste to be recycled for more than a decade, and have been London’s best council for recycling for the last 15 years.
In other words, we passed the current Mayor’s target for over half of waste to be recycled by 2025, when Ken Livingstone was finishing his term as Mayor – and we became number one for recycling when “Friends” was on its final season.
While many Labour Councils in London talk about how we should do more, while not actually doing more, we’ve achieved our success by not talking about it – rather we’ve just got on with it.
We don’t fine people or lecture people, we just provide all the tools necessary to help people recycle and we take residents along with us on the journey.
We promote it constantly, and we work with schools to get the message that we are a recycling-friendly Borough, with recycling embedded through everything we do.
We also never stand still. In fact, we’re just completing an overhaul to a new recycling collection service, which we expect to boost recycling rates even further.
And we didn’t need any Government funding to do it. Quite the reverse.
Our recycling strategies have saved Bexley taxpayers millions of pounds, by reducing the costs of the service and avoiding landfill taxes too. The changes we made in 2008 didn’t just almost double recycling rates – they reduced the costs of the service by over £3 million a year – and the changes we’ve just made will reduce costs by a further £500,000 a year.
And we generate income by selling the recycled materials.
Our neighbouring Council, Greenwich, is now consulting on whether to change to a fortnightly non-recyclable waste collection system, and weekly recycling collections, in the hope of increasing recycling by five per cent.
It’s presented as if introducing fortnightly residual waste is something unusual or risky. But it isn’t. We changed to fortnightly residual collections in 2008 and recycling rates went up 20 per cent overnight.
Our experience shows that by taking a long term approach, ensuring residents are taken on the journey together with the Council and by constantly promoting recycling and providing the tools for people to do so, Councils can achieve major increases in recycling rates year after year.
PS. Two hours after the Leader of the Council asked the Mayor why Bexley’s recycling plans had not been signed off – they were…