One Year On

A look at the compulsory recycling trial on its first anniversary

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One year after Hammersmith and Fulham began a compulsory recycling trial in part of Shepherd's Bush, the Council says recycling rates across the borough are up by three per cent.

The pilot scheme, which began on 1 October 2007, made it compulsory for residents living north of the Goldhawk Road to recycle glass, cans, empty aerosols, tetra paks, paper and magazines, using orange Smart Sacks.  

The Council says it wants to meet a recycling target of 30% by 2010. 

Residents we spoke to gave differing views on the merits of mixed recycling: “Some places separate their paper from plastic whereas we put everything in the same sack. I'm not sure how efficient this is. Those of us interested in recycling would, I think, gladly separate items further,” says Lesley Dabson who lives in the compulsory zone.  

But other compulsory zone residents disagreed: “If they want people to recycle, it has to be zero effort,” says Catherine Remy, while Annabel Clarke points to traffic jams in Hounslow, caused by rubbish collectors having to stop for lengthy periods of time to pick up recycling materials separated into different containers. 

As the compulsory recycling trial only applies to households that have a kerbside collection, most flats are exempt.  “It surprises me that there seems little or no recycling bags of rubbish left outside flats on collection day, whereas family homes do leave recycling bags,” said Dabson.

But space was seen to be an issue for flat-dwellers when it comes to storing full orange sacks: “What some of the residents living in HMOs (house of multiple occupation) would like are on-street recycling bins, similar to the housing estates. This would, according to LBHF, be impractical due to the possibility of the contamination of recyclables,” said Clarke.

In theory, those who persistently fail to recycle could be served with a formal legal notice and issued with a £100 fixed penalty but the Council says that no fines have been issued over the course of the year. They say they prefer to promote the scheme using leaflets and posters to remind people of what they need to put in their orange sacks.

The residents we spoke to said they agreed with this approach: “I’m not surprised people weren’t fined. It’s better to get people on board. I don’t think that by fining people you’re going to make them recycle more,” said Remy. 

Clarke said she thought even persistent offenders should not be fined: “I consider that it would be very counter productive to fine residents for failing to recycle but feel that it is acceptable for the Council to write to those residents who frequently put out rubbish on the wrong day/in the wrong bag,” she told  

According go the Local Government Association, Britain puts more rubbish into landfill than any other EU country.

A recent report by the Audit Commission said that although recycling across the country had quadrupled in the last decade, it warned that local councils risked paying hefty fines if they failed to cut the amount of waste sent to landfill and to increase recycling rates further to meet EU targets.

Locally, some people said they wanted to be able to recycle more items: “It’s hard to recycle batteries,” said Remy. “They have to make it easier. They could put battery recycling points in schools. And what about toxic substances? I have to go all the way to Greenford to recycle paint.”  

Nicholas Botterill, deputy leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council and cabinet member for environment, said the compulsory recycling pilot had been a “great success”: “It has contributed to the borough currently recycling more than 27 per cent of our waste, meaning we are well on our way to reaching the government's national target of 30 per cent by 2010,” he said. 

However, it is not clear if it is going to be rolled out across the borough, as originally envisaged: "We are continually looking at ways of increasing the amount of waste we recycle and this includes the possibility of compulsory recycling across the borough in the future," said Cllr Botterill.  

The first London borough to introduce compulsory recycling was Barnet which brought in a trial scheme in April 2004. This was then followed by H&F, Hackney, Harrow and Waltham Forest.

Yasmine Estaphanos

8 October 2008