Council ‘improves’ its recycling rates by burning more rubbish

It was trebles all-round at Croydon Town Hall last night, as councillors slapped themselves on the back for significantly improved recycling rates, after they imposed Binmageddon on residents across the borough last year.

The Viridor incinerator on Beddington Lane

But an unintended slip by a council official has revealed that the principal reason for the claims of increased rates of recycling is that more of our rubbish is being burned in incinerators.

Croydon and Sutton are two of the four boroughs in the South London Waste Partnership, or SLWP, who together use rubbish contractors Veolia for street cleaning and waste collection.

Stuart Collins, the Croydon councillor responsible for our bins and the state of our streets, delivered a report to the cabinet meeting last night which claimed that recycling in the borough was up from 38 per cent to 48 per cent in the past year – apparently, Collins would have us believe, all because they changed the size of people’s bins.

Collins’ vacuous report provided no source for his statistics, nor did it offer any evidence to show how, in the space of just 12 months, the borough had improved the amount it is recycling by almost one-third. Collins was not subjected to any particularly probing scrutiny by the opposition councillors either.

But some clarity has been offered by a council official in Sutton at a neighbourhood meeting staged in that borough last month.

There, the council officer blurted out that when Veolia and their client councils talk about the amounts of rubbish going for recycling, what Veolia is actually measuring is “recycling and reuse”, where the reuse of the rubbish is burning it as fuel in an incinerator.

Although Viridor’s £210million waste incinerator at Beddington Lane is not fully operational yet – more than a year later than contractually scheduled – Croydon and Sutton are known to have been sending some of their boroughs’ rubbish to alternative incineration facilities, such as near Heathrow.

Just changing the size of our wheelie bins has led to an increase in recycling rates, or so Cllr Collins would have you believe

Croydon Council recently declared a climate emergency in the borough, with a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2030 – an impossible target for a council which has a £10million a year contract to 2045 for the burning of its rubbish.

The admission that “recycling” is now actually being burned came at last month’s Cheam North and Worcester Park committee meeting, in a brief but significant exchange between a Sutton councillor and council official.

After a presentation, including a graph of continuously encouraging recycled waste figures was discussed, Councillor Ryan Stoneman asked whether Sutton Council included the waste burned in the incinerator as “recycled”.

“It’s great to see that recycling is up,” said the councillor.

“I just wanted to find out, in terms of what we actually mean by ‘recycling’. Is this including what we’re sending to the incinerator in the borough? Is that considered recycling? What we’re burning?”

To which Andrew Chandler, Sutton Council’s head of waste and street cleansing, said, “It’s recycling and reuse, so that includes waste that’s sent to the energy recovery facility. Yes.”

Sutton Council’s staff have endured many years of brain-washing so that none of them ever dares utter the dread word “incinerator”. But that’s what Chandler meant when he said “energy recovery facility”.

Sutton Council has a financial arrangement with Viridor under which they hope to make money from selling the heat generated by the incinerator. To do that, they depend on “fuel”. Plus, of course, with landfill taxes so expensive these days, and the Beddington Farmlands landfill all but full, simply burning rubbish is a lot cheaper than burying it in holes in the ground, and certainly the most profitable outcome for the operator.

Stuart Collins: no source or evidence to back-up his recycling figures

As one resident who attended the meeting last month observed, “By carefully reinterpreting ‘recycling’ and ‘incinerating’ to mean the same outcome, it seems Sutton Council have achieved overstated recycling figures, which include non-recycled, burned waste.

“I wonder, is it just Sutton which has moved the goal posts and enhanced the recycling figures?”

According to correspondence sent on behalf of Helen Bailey, Sutton Council’s chief executive, and seen by Inside Croydon, Veolia is indeed applying the same interpretation to its rubbish figures in the other SLWP boroughs – Croydon, Merton and Kingston.

Neither Councillor Collins nor Croydon Council officials have managed to provide any other, credible explanation for the startling increase in recycling rates, to 48 per cent, in the past 12 months.

But there were plenty of clues in the report Collins submitted to the council cabinet last night to suggest that burning rubbish is now being included in the borough’s recycling figures.

“From both a financial and environmental perspective recycling is preferable to disposal of residual waste,” Collins’ report states, without explaining that Veolia now regard recycling as “recycling and reuse”, to include incineration.

Collins’ report continued: “Financially it costs considerably less to recycle waste than it does to dispose of it as residual waste.” Which, actually, is utterly untrue, unless “recycling and reuse” of waste includes burning it.

And elsewhere in his report, Collins states, “The SLWP contract has resulted in cost avoidance by reducing the amount of waste sent for disposal.” By sending more of it to incineration.

“Croydon aims to achieve a 50 per cent recycling rate by 2020 and be London’s Greenest Borough. We are on track to deliver this,” Collins stated in a report which failed to make a single mention of Croydon’s multi-million-pound contractual interest in burning rubbish at the Beddington Lane incinerator.

Jenny Jones: has warned that we would burn more than we recycle

Perhaps the contradictions between burning rubbish and being a green borough are too much to grasp for Collins and his buffoon of a council leader, Tony Newman.

As previously noted, Collins’ report failed to cite the source of his claimed recycling figures, or to provide any evidence to back up the 48 per cent boast.

But the Whitehall environment department, DEFRA, will soon be publishing its annual report on recycling which is expected to show that, as a nation, we have reached the point where we burn more household rubbish than we recycle.

Baroness Jones, the Green Party peer and former London Assembly Member, has written, “I have been warning that this would happen since my time as a London Assembly member, when it became clear that several London boroughs were tied into incineration contracts that inevitably led to them recycling far less than neighbouring boroughs.

“My research has shown a well-established pattern across England that incineration stops recycling from growing rapidly and in some cases has led to its decline…

“There is a logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle, or reuse, but the big switch of the last decade has been from dumping our waste in the ground to burning it.”

And while Croydon Council’s report last night had Collins banging on about the scourge of single-use plastics – Croydon’s “solution” is to provide three new drinking fountains across a borough with a population of 360,000 people – Jones has identified that incinerator operators, such as Viridor, are keen to get their hands on waste plastic. With China no longer accepting ship-loads of rubbish from Europe for “recycling”, using plastic as incinerator fuel is the easy option.

“Plastic is the real fuel of this drive for incineration,” Jones writes.

“Little plastic is recycled, but because it is made from oil, it is ideal for raising the temperature of furnaces. The big beneficiaries of single-use plastic are the oil companies and those running incinerators. The losers are the rest of us, with the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and runaway climate change.”

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
This entry was posted in Croydon Council, Environment, Jenny Jones, Refuse collection, Stuart Collins, Sutton Council, Veolia, Waste incinerator and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Council ‘improves’ its recycling rates by burning more rubbish

  1. David Wickens says:

    So the perverse logic of the elected members, Viridor and Officers is that statistics demonstrating 100% recycling can be achieved by burning all collected rubbish. I used to wonder about the IQ of some of those demonstrating with Extinction Rebellion, but Croydon Council has now reached rock bottom.

  2. Lewis White says:

    A very revealing article, thanks Inside Croydon.

    The plastic waste is coming home to roost, rather than being exported to China !

    But, as much of it comes from China, they are actually exporting their plastic to us in the form of plastic toys, gadgets, vacuum cleaners and miles of other stuff. But it must be good that we are having now to deal with our own mess.
    Sad – as they don’t live in the area – that the Directors of Viridor and probably most councillors from the four South London Waste Partnership can’t enjoy the fragrant effluent from the smokestack of the Beddington Incinerator, along with the airborne tang of the sewage treatment works, both experienced daily by many residents who live within a mile or two of the Beddington Lane area.

    Thankfully, awareness now seems to be official – in Health England – about the number of heart attacks caused by air pollution. How long before someone down the golf course mentions to someone else that this is dangerous talk, and these johnnies need to keep their unproven views to themselves?.

    Post-Brexit, it’s going to be a dog-eat-dog world.

    If UK politicians care, and have a modicum of shame about the health damage caused by the Beddington Incinerator and its brother and sister burners, , they really ought to be acting now to ban unrecyclable product wrapping, and bring in deposits on plastc bottles. . Even some states in the USA do this! As to plastic vacuum cleaners etc, admittedly, its hard to know what to do. Oi Dyson.! wot are you doing about it?

    Back to alloy, me thinks. At least that is recycled. But the mining destroys the earth and poisons the streams . Nothing is easy –but we are paying politicians to get us out of this mess. Good money.

    I notice that Danish company Lego, embarrassed by the plastic mountain of discarded red, yellow and blue building blocks, is now thinking of “Hire Lego” , although one doubts whether consumers are going to love the scuffed faded pre-used Lego that will result.

    Can’t they invent some wonder material based on bamboo or some other thing biodegradeable?

  3. The Council, thank you Mr Collins, has added yet another “y” to its already long list of attributes.

    First you had insincerity, then mendacity, duplicity, insensitivity, risibility, incomprehensibility and now, burning away, hypocrisy… disgraceful and expedient.

    Where did all the politicians with gravitas and sincerity go? Certainly not here and precious few of them to Parliament either.

  4. David Wild says:

    Mmmmm, ever looked into the Waste Transfer Stations that ‘process’ waste before it’s sent elsewhere ??
    Croydon’s main one it tucked away in the green belt on the border with Tandridge and not far from Bromley.
    There appears to be little or no regulation as to whose waste is processes nor where it is sent.
    Planning departments seem unable to control them, largely because there seems no need for the sites to be authorised, registered, regulated, etc. All they need is some open space where some poor sap can sort through it and somehow load it onto larger lorries to enable it to be transported away.
    Looking at the SLWP Boroughs most of their ‘Transfer Stations’ sit right on the boundaries with adjacent boroughs, out of sight and out of mind ?? There are NO regulations stating they MUST be covered with sound and environmental protection measures within the design !!
    It seems to me that the focus of the whole ‘waste issue’ is around Factory Lane and surrounding ‘trading estates’ where waste can be ‘sorted’ then ‘processed’, which now seems to mean burning, unless it’s metal !!!
    Given the heat burning produces I ask what happens to that heat ?? For sure it doesn’t5 appear to be used for electricity generation nor to provide heating for local residents, and for sure not businesses. If it were we would see pipelines and cables everywhere. The local ‘green construction’ lies near Hackbridge Station, though I doubt it’s heated nor powered by Vividor !!!
    If you believe the blurb, waste transfer stations take waste from ‘smaller vehicles’, process it then load larger vehicles for onward transport, removing the need for multiple small vehicles travelling longer distances to larger processing sites. With everything focussing toward Beddington Lane there will be minimal gain. I guess the aim is to reduce distances travelled by ‘dust carts’ leaving the rest to ‘businesses’ to sort out !!
    Why dont they just convert the whole of the west side of Beddington Lane to a huge waste treatment plant and improve road access !!
    The big irony iss that could seriously pollute the river wandle !!!!
    It really is about time we reduce non recyclable waste, we’ve known for decades the evil of plastics !!
    Also we MUST automate/mechanise waste processing, removing the issues associated with manual sorting.
    I guess there’s a few issues here, one being the difference between household and business waste. The latter is probably well sorted BEFORE it’s collected, just look at the number of ‘dumpsters’ i use, the main problem seems to be household waste from the ‘general waste bin’ which potentially holds all sorts. I guess collect and deliver unsorted to a local transfer station, load into larger lorries, then transport to a largescale automated sorting site, then combine and forward.
    Seems to me the problem is so widespread it really needs central government involvement to come up with high level plans, let’s take London.
    Bulk delivery to sites near the M25, or other motorways where space is available, THEN sort, reload and forward, BUT where it goes needs to be ascertained. Maybe even ‘remanufacturing’ sites need to be included or nearby, perhaps near railway lines to enable bulk transport to remove the dependence on roads
    The more I write the more I believe the end to end process needs looking at from a high level perspective.
    Time to shut my brain down !!

Leave a Reply