Croydon’s set a course that incentivises rubbish incineration

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.

Recycling boxes

Carefully sorted recycling. Soon to be a thing of the past? And to whose benefit?

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.

Viridor logoAnd 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 KhanShasha 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

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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2 Responses to Croydon’s set a course that incentivises rubbish incineration

  1. Yesterday was world cancer day…

    More people are getting cancer,and fewer are dying of it,though our survival rates aren’t that good,compared with our continental neighbours.Speed of diagnosis and availibility of treatment (especially radiotherapy) are key factors.These bottlenecks gave been known about for decades,but nowhere near enough has been done to solve them,despite what you hear from politicians.I am just putting this review article here as a record,in the face of the drivel-spin that is likely to be woven around todays “Day of Cancer” There are many reasons why politicians should hang their heads in shame. at consecutive failures to understand and solve the bottlenecks of adequate cancer treatment and diagnosis that have existed for decades.Our survival figures are shamefully below our neighbours’

    ( see the particularly informative graphs,also on stop the incinerator)
    Their putting the UK at bottom of all the cancer survival stats is a very powerful statistical proof.A more subtle finding is that all treatments are beginning to flatten off across all of them…a rate limiting step has been reached…a new technological.drug step up is needed

    Ruth Dombey certainly sees the need for some good publicity:somewhere in the heart of darkness a realisation of a hint of guilt and responsibility beats.Just think,in order to prove how cancer friendly Sutton Council is,it has scraped together a ragbag of finances and pie-in-the sky tramplans,for a global cancer research hub.Do you think this is to rebut accusations its canvassers are likely to meet on the doorstep about the incinerator? In the upcoming elections?

    Having put in a major source of carcinogenicty into the borough we need the special schools locally to feed the staffing though,and better transport links.We have, at once, won and lost the postcode lottery! There are so many sources of carcinogenicity that politicians don’t want to and won’t discus that the only useful strategy is to put enormous pessure on local health commissioning groups to provide adequate treatment.First,to catch up,then to find new treatments.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Better far, to get rid of sources of air and water pollution, which must reduce cancer. Burning can’t be good. Neither is landfill. Recycling allied with Waste reduction, must be the wise way forward.

    We really should be stopping use of packaging materials that cannot be recycled. Plastic films…which wrap meat from supermarkets—why can’t these be replaced with bio-degradeable films? Polystyrene–the biggest scandal –it looks so clean–why can’t it be recycled?

    Waste reduction first–then recycling. The contents of my dustbin are often very small in volume, as I don’t buy food wrapped in plastic if I can help it. The Environment just can’t take any more! Ask the dolphins who get plastic bags trapped in their stomachs.

    I don’t like the sound of “co-mingling”, as anyone in the waste business knows that CLEAN recycled material is worth more. If good clean recyclables are thrown in the wheely bin, they get dirty, and are not worth recycling.

    I wonder if the councils are just naive and / or stupid? As council tax payer, I don’t want “co-mingling” to cost more, to make profits for the waste companies. But above all, I want less waste in the environment.And I want elected members to encourage, not trash, recycling efforts.

    After decades of changing the habits of the public from being the throw-away society, to the caring recycle-it society, it would be totally misguided and criminally irresponsible to stop all this good work. I will certainly be looking at recycling policies of the candidates when casting my Mayoral vote soon. I am getting angry.

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