Westminster steps up freesheet waste war

Westminster City Council has become the first local authority to use powers which will force distributors of free newspapers to share responsibility for the waste they produce.

For several months, the council has been negotiating with the publishers of The London Paper and London Lite, who distribute over a million copies of the papers each week day, in the hopes of persuading them to sponsor recycling bins and a vehicle to empty them (see related story).

The discussions have so far failed to reach an agreement which is acceptable to both newspapers, so on Monday night, councillors voted to give the publishers, News International and Associated Newspapers, one month to find a solution.

If they fail to do so, the council will ban unregulated distribution of free papers on its streets, and force papers to apply for a permit with will, in effect, be a contract outlining how many papers can be handed out and what the producer will do to ensure they are properly disposed of.

Around 20 tonnes of free papers end up as street waste every week in Westminster, and it costs the council £111,000 a year to deal with the deluge.

Around a quarter of the street waste in parts of the West End is discarded free newspaper, but as it is strewn on the ground or mixed with other waste it is not recycled due to contamination.

Cllr Alan Bradley, the council’s cabinet member responsible for the street environment, said: “This proposal gives us the authority to forcibly tackle the issue of waste if the voluntary agreement fails. However, I hope both publishers will be eager to ensure that the voluntary agreement works and we will be monitoring its effectiveness closely.

“We simply cannot afford to let the problem of waste newspapers defacing our streets continue and our residents, businesses and visitors rightly expect the streets not to be left strewn with a mountain of discarded newspapers .We strongly believe that the publishers have a clear duty to ensure their product does not deface our city.”

The council had originally proposed setting up a viable recycling regime, which would have involved each newspaper in sponsoring 150 recycling bins and a vehicle to empty them. But that was dependent on both publishers being prepared to share the costs equally.

Monday’s decision gives the publishers one month in which to agree to a voluntary scheme where they run their own cleaning operation to ensure their waste does not deface the streets. The council cannot legally compel the publishers to recycle, but would seek to encourage all waste newspaper to be recycled.

If it is necessary for the council to move to the statutory regime, thereby invoking powers in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, designated zones would be created within which it would be illegal to distribute free printed material without a permit.

Those planned zones are the areas most blighted by freesheet waste, around Charing Cross and Embankment stations, Leicester Square/Charing Cross Road; Oxford Circus and environs and Victoria station and environs.

Sam Bond

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