Kingston sees rates rocket in four weeks

In just one month, recycling rates have quadrupled in Kingston, south London, where a small but well-planned trial is paying dividends for the council

Alternate weekly collections have been criticised by some for taking a punitive rather than incentivising approach in diverting waste from landfill and increasing recycling rates. However a 12-month trial in the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, south London, looks as if it may have found a way of making the scheme more palatable while producing results.

In the small trial area of Berrylands, the council has swapped weekly refuse collections and fortnightly recycling collections (available in the rest of the borough) for fortnightly refuse collections and weekly recycling collections. Established in March this year, results from the first four weeks alone indicate an almost quadrupling of recycling rates from an average 2.41kg to 6.10kg per household per week.

Currently the whole borough has access to a green box recycling scheme covering cans, tins, glass bottles, jars, paper including newspapers, plastic grades one and two, textiles and shoes. But in the trial area, the 2,500 householders taking part have also been given extra recycling services on top of this.

They can now recycle food scraps and have been given a small brown container for the kitchen, plus a larger brown lidded bin into which scraps are decanted for outside storage and collection. There is also a white fabric bag in which to recycle cardboard. These, alongside the green boxes and organic waste, are also collected weekly.

Householders in the trial area have been provided with smaller 140-litre wheelie bins for non-recyclable waste to encourage recycling. However, families of five or more can apply for larger 240-litre bins.

In preparation for the scheme, the council undertook direct mailings and advertised in the local press. Information included collection times, what householders could and couldn't recycle, as well as the reasoning behind the trial. Purchase of the new bins and bags was funded by a grant from Defra, and the council was able to find spare vehicle and worker capacity to set up the trial by re-organising its collection rounds so that they were more efficient.

Majority support from homes
Kingston Council reports that householders in the area have been supportive of the scheme and only around 4% to 5% have had difficulty fitting all their refuse into the smaller wheelie bins. In the first two weeks of the trial, officers went out to monitor householder participation as well as pinpoint those experiencing difficulties to offer practical advice.

The council believes residents have been receptive to the scheme because while it has cut non-recyclable waste collections, it has offered an alternative solution and improvements to its recycling service. But as Rob Dickson, the council's head of environment and sustainability, argues: "The recycling isn't the crucial thing for us, but landfill diversion is - obviously closely followed by increasing recycling rates."

According to SITA, who carries out waste and recycling collections across the borough, the trial has performed well on this front. In the first four weeks, the amount of waste being sent to landfill has been cut from 7.73kg to 4.47kg per household per week.

The council's LATS allocation in 2006-7 was 43,010 tonnes and the draft reconciliation shows 38,191 tonnes was sent to landfill - 4,818 tonnes under the allowance. However, by 2020, Kingston will have to meet a 65% reduction in the amount of biodegradable municipal waste landfilled.

The council says it will watch and learn from the Berrylands trial - the results of which will feed into the planning of its new waste and recycling contract. This is up for renewal next year and will take it beyond the 2020 deadline.

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