Putting recycling in the public eye

London, among with other major cities, has a great opportunity to capture more material by persuading people to recycle on the go. Maxine Perella reports

Public place recycling will play a huge role in making London 2012 the world’s first sustainable Olympic games. London 2012 has committed to operating a closed loop event waste management system to ensure that waste materials are sent for reprocessing back into high-grade products, and recycling is a key part of this.

This, along with the wealth of tourist attractions that London has to offer, makes the capital an ideal place to test out public recycling away from home. To capitalise on this, London Remade held its latest local authority network event on the topic in London, 30 June.

In setting the scene, Daniel Silverstone, chief executive of London Remade, said that recycling facilities were still “extremely uncommon in places like car parks, cinemas and shopping centres”. He noted that the collection of recyclables in public places presented many challenges – around issues of contamination, quality, communication and maintenance.

To help address this, the Government has recently released Recycle on the Go following a consultation last year. This consists of a voluntary code of practice, plus a good practice guide to public place recycling. Tristan Crago, policy advisor at Defra, explained the aims of the guidance.

“Local authorities and other organisations can provide more opportunities to the public to recycle, and increasingly are doing so. It’s about encouraging a consistent approach – the emphasis of the guidance is on litter when we’re out and about.”

Signs point to consistency

As part of this consistency, he emphasised the importance of signage. “Standard signage is one of the most important factors. We consulted on recommending the use of the ‘recycle now’ iconography and the majority of recipients supported that. By using the standard signage, people will know what they can recycle and where it can be recycled, wherever they are.”

Contamination, he added, was “clearly a big concern”, but the answer lay in careful planning. “The consultation exercise we carried out suggests that schemes can experience contamination rates as low as 2%, but it is possible that new schemes can have higher rates – 10 to 20%, certainly in the early stages, but we would expect this to decrease over time as schemes become more established.”

He told delegates to think about whether there were regular bins nearby to take account of material that can’t be put in the recycling bins, and to discuss the handling of any contamination with waste contractors as early as possible in the process.

One London borough that has had particular problems with street litter is the City of Westminster. The mass onslaught of free daily and evening newspapers in the capital – such as the Metro, the London Paper and London Lite – has given the council a massive headache in terms of its clean-up. But by working with the merchandisers of the papers, Westminster has managed to turn the litter nightmare into a recycling opportunity.

Phil Robson, recycling manager for the City of Westminster, said that one-quarter of the borough’s household waste stream is street litter due to the high number of daily visitors to the area. “We’re a poor performer, our recycling household recycling rate is 23%, and to get better we need to tackle street litter.”

Freesheets on the street

The free papers just compounded the problem. There are over 2M freesheet evening papers distributed in the capital alone, and the Metro has recently increased its distribution from 500,000 to 700,000, most of them coming into the commuting zones.

“The impact overnight – it was August two years ago – street cleansing standards just declined and we had to do something about it,” Robson recalled. “I worked out we were collecting an extra four tonnes a day of free papers. Our bins were overflowing and we needed to do something sharpish.”

The council spent a lot of time looking at the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act. “I wanted to ban them [the free papers] straight away, but after realising how costly it would be to put in an enforcement regime we looked at limiting their distribution, but that had problems too,” explained Robson.

Instead, the authority opted to negotiate with the merchandisers and put in place a voluntary producer responsibility agreement with two of the freesheets, London Paper and London Lite, under which both papers would fund the purchase, management and emptying of 70 twin bins.

Clean up your mess

The agreement includes bin maintenance on a quarterly washing basis, and covering any repair and replacement costs. The merchandisers also have litter picking responsibilities within a 100m zone of their distribution points. The council is looking to extend the agreement to the big daily, the Metro.

“We are collecting 930 tonnes of papers and magazines. At the moment the free newspapers are collecting 240 tonnes a year, but there is still over 1,000 tonnes of papers going to landfill whether that’s freesheets, nationals, or periodicals. So that’s a key focus for me and the team – trying to work with people to divert more,” said Robson.

He added that increased producer responsibility was the way forward. “It is £150,000 just in additional disposal costs for the free papers. The taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear that burden.”

London hosts a variety of public events throughout the year, so persuading people to recycle at festivals, trade shows and music concerts is a key challenge. Ed Cook, business manager at Network Recycling, said his company had been involved in events waste management since 1992 working on outdoor festivals like Glastonbury and increasingly, major sporting events.

“I think the public are starting to expect public place recycling. There’s a big role to play in public education – people attending an event are often very relaxed and it’s an ideal canvas upon which to impress new ideas on people,” he pointed out.

While acknowledging that there was a question mark over which events might be considered municipal, and hence able to contribute towards recycling targets for councils, Cook highlighted BS8901 – the new British standard for running a sustainable event.

“Many event organisers are now seeking to attain this accreditation. Obviously recycling is a big part of running a sustainable event.”

Looking at material streams, he told delegates that food and packaging could represent up to a third of the waste stream on an event site. But he said that an event can be an ideal opportunity to operate a closed loop system: “If you can control the input then you can realise the output.”

Work with traders

He explained: “We pioneered a system at Glastonbury Festival in 2003 by asking traders only to use paper and wooden packaging to serve their food. The material was sent for composting and recycling rate leapt from 11% to over 30% in one year.”

Cooking oil and glass were also highlighted as key considerations. “The use of cooking oil is significant on an event site and often overlooked. We recommend that the traders put it back into the original container and put the lid on. From there it’s a simple sub-contract to have it taken away at the end. We’re actually starting to get money for it.”

He added that glass could also be taken advantage of: “A lot of event organisers will tell you that they have no glass on their event site. What they mean is that the condition of their licence means they’re not allowed to sell glass packaging, but I’ve yet to go to an event and not find an array of spirits and wines behind the bar. So it’s an excellent opportunity to collect very clean and colour-separated material.”

Maxine Perella is editor of LAWR

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