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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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