CROYDON COMMENTARY: Are council plans for new bins, for every household in the borough, likely to cause the “contamination” of recycling, and so maximise the profits for incinerator operators? SHASHA KHAN suggests that it is a real risk
Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible, in that it is possible to package the most unpalatable and nonsensical solutions as acceptable and prudent.
Through my involvement in the Stop the Incinerator Campaign, I have witnessed at first-hand the ability of our elected representatives in Sutton and in Croydon to maintain various bankrupt pronouncements when the overwhelming evidence is against them.
I was reminded of another example of this when I read “Profits of doom: How to make millions from burning crap” on Inside Croydon this week. Among all the salient points, the one that grabbed my attentions was this:
“A company that runs a recycling plant can reject a load of material that is meant to be recycled if it says it has been ‘contaminated’. Some recycling plants have a contamination rejection rate as high as 20 per cent.
“When the company operates a landfill site, there is little financial incentive to reject recycling material, because they will make just £15 per ton.
“But if the rejected ‘contaminated recycling material is sent to an incinerator, then they will receive £100 per ton.”
For decades, residents in Croydon and across the country have used separate bins for their kerbside recycling. This is known as “source separated collection”. The idea is to prevent contamination of the recyclable material. I think most children who are taught about recycling at infant school understand the logic: if we placed all our recyclables in one box then paper or cardboard, for example, could easily be stained with the sticky dregs of a bottle of fizzy pop or the sauce from a baked bean tin, and thus cannot be recycled.
Here in Croydon, another step in that direction happened a couple of years ago with the introduction of the food waste boxes, which again reduce the amount sent to landfill and avoid contamination of other recyclables.
Friends of the Earth have an excellent briefing on this, which can be read here.
“The problem with kerbside collections is that once it is collected by the waste contractor, they are in control of it,” Jonathan Essex, a Green Party councillor in Surrey, told a Stop The Incinerator meeting a little while ago.
And now we appear to be heading towards a new approach where residents will no longer be asked to separate their recyclables when putting it out for collection. We are about to embark on something called “commingling”.
The authorities figure that by allowing residents to throw all their recyclables into one bin, recycling levels will increase. The latest thinking is that recycling centres, or “materials recovery facilities”, MRFs as they are called in the jargon on the business, are able to recover 85 per cent of the recyclables from a commingled collection.
The key question here is, though, is whether this collection strategy will increase recycling by more than 15 per cent?
Because if not, then – after about 20 years of educating and encouraging people into better recycling habits – recycling levels will decrease.
Interestingly, the decision to move away from source separated kerbside recycling was tested in the High Court in 2013. The judge ruled in favour of DEFRA, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and against The Campaign for Real Recycling, who maintain that commingled collections reduce the quality and value of the recyclable materials.
How does this all affect us in Croydon?
Presently, our kerbside recycling is collected by Veolia and sent to Viridor’s facility in Crayford in Kent, although as was reported here, Croydon is already sending 20 per cent of its domestic waste to an existing Viridor incinerator, near Slough.
A year ago, Croydon Council announced it would spend £4 million to roll out new, single bins for commingled recycling. But there is no trace of this decision on the council’s own website, where as recently as last March the leader was still advocating the importance to separate your plastics from your other waste.
With the advent of commingled collections, our recyclable materials will presumably need to be recovered in an MRF.
Guess who runs the biggest MRF in the country? Yes it’s Viridor – in Crayford.
So how keen will Viridor be to determine commingled collections as “contaminated”, beyond recovery, and so send it by the lorry-load to the more financially rewarding incinerator?
- Shasha Khan, pictured right, was the Green Party’s General Election candidate in Croydon North last year, and lead the unsuccessful Judicial Review legal challenge against Viridor and Sutton Council in the High Court last year
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