Westminster’s free paper ultimatum

Westminster City Council has told the publishers of two of London's free newspapers that a ban could be put in place barring the distribution of free literature in parts of the West End unless they chip in for recycling staff and infrastructure.

According to the authority, the huge number of papers discarded in the district every day is bringing down its recycling performance and costing the borough’s council tax payers a fortune.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 gives local authorities the power to restrict the distribution of free literatures in zones where it can show it is contributing to an unacceptable level of litter.

It does not, however, allow them to force publishers to contribute to the clean up costs.

A spokesman for the council told edie that the authority took the view that it was unfair to expect local residents to shoulder the cost alone and it was currently in discussion with the companies which produce London Lite and the London Paper.

The publishers have offered money to help set up a dedicated recycling service but not enough, according to the council.

“We haven’t given a date as to when any ban would come into force,” the spokesman told edie.

“We’ve been negotiating with them for nearly four months. The offers we’ve had so far haven’t come anywhere near meeting the cost. We don’t feel that the issue has been taken terribly seriously.”

He said that while the council had the potential option of granting licenses to some distributors but not others, it was unlikely to go down that road as the administration and monitoring would make such schemes expensive to enforce.

As things stand, the authority is collecting three to four tonnes of discarded papers every day and apart from the expense this was having the knock on effect of lowering the council’s recycling performance by around 1%, from 21% to 20%.

“Because its mixed in litter bins it’s not getting recycled, it’s going to landfill or incineration,” he said.

“The papers have a combined circulation of nearly 1 million daily and a lot of that ends up in Westminster. A quarter of all waste we collect from the streets is free newspapers. The problems are huge, we need a major scheme to recycle them.

“The problem is that the West End needs around 300 bins which cost almost £800 each. The area is so busy and congested and so the bins get filled up quite quickly so we need extra lorries and staff to run it.”

More generous offers from publishers to share the funding could make a real difference, he argued.

“It would lead to us being able to install recycling bins across the West End,” said the spokesman.

“We know the demand is there from the people. We’ve done trials which proved popular but we need the infrastructure to do it on a large scale.”

Sam Bond

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