Free papers pay for city recycling

Westminster City Council and the publishers of two of London's free newspapers are to share the costs of recycling the waste produced from their distribution.

The deal was finalised last autumn after months of wrangling over details but last week the bins funded by the publishers were finally unveiled.

Associated Newspapers, publisher of London Lite, and NI Free Newspapers Ltd, which publishes thelondonpaper, have paid for 70 newspaper recycling bins to be placed at 56 sites across the West End, and will be responsible for the emptying and recycling of nearly 400 tonnes of free newspapers a year – saving the equivalent of 6,400 trees.

Cllr Alan Bradley, Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for street environment, told edie: “The negotiations were completed last September but it’s taken this time to get the bins delivered and get the advertising consent.

“We reckoned that the free papers added about 20 tonnes a week, or 1,000 tonnes a year, to our rubbish that we had to collect. [These bins will cover] about half the extra load which is a reasonably good figure.”

Before a deal was closed with the publishers, the frustrated council had threatened to force distributors to get a license – if it had pushed this through it would have been the first local authority in the land to bring such powers to bear.

Cllr Bradley told edie he was relieved that had not been necessary.

“We’re delighted that we didn’t have to invoke these powers because we’ve no desire to have excessive bureaucracy,” he said.

Westminster could still claim a first by clinching the deal, he went on.

“No other local authority has done this but then no other local authority has the enormous scale of the problem that we have,” said the councillor.

The two publishers who have signed up to shoulder some of the additional cost of recycling are far from the only producers of free papers in London, so is Cllr Bradley concerned about the dozens of smaller paper producers?

“We don’t see these as being a great degree of the problem,” he said.

“[With the bigger publishers] people are employed to hand them out and are quite aggressive in their distribution.”

This meant that many papers would go straight in the bin unread, or worse yet onto the floor, he explained, as people would often take a copy thrust into their hand even if they did not want it.

Those publishers who use racks on the side of the pavement and allow those who want a copy to take it posed less of a problem, he argued, as people who take a paper through choice are more likely to dispose of it responsibly.

Asked about the broader issues of producer responsibility, and whether a WEEE-like scheme might be appropriate for the publishers of newspapers, he said: “It’s a bit more difficult with something as ephemeral as a newspaper or magazine and I’m not sure how practical it would be.

“With WEEE ultimately the consumer has got to be bothered to take the thing back to where they bought it. They might be prepared to do that with something like a fridge but they’re not going to do it with a newspaper.”

Sam Bond

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