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Camden New Journal - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 29 May 2008
It’s not just recycling we need, but to reduce waste

• THE recent debate in the New Journal illustrates clearly how we cannot rely on recycling to save us from the ills of climate change (The dirty secret of where your recycling really goes, May 15; Letters, May 22).
We currently purchase goods which are often disposable or of little value to us and we buy food and other things which are overly packaged.
Though we manage to collect a fair proportion of this, about 30 per cent, this waste journeys half-way across the world with a significant carbon cost before being used to manufacture something new and similarly disposable with a further cost in terms of climate change.
As the director of Veolia points out taking this recyclable waste to China is better than landfilling it as we are close to running out of acceptable landfill sites.
And the chances of using it here are low considering our limited manufacturing capacity and in any event this does involve using energy.
What we really need to be doing, as I have emphasised in Camden’s Sustainable Task Force debates, is to focus on reducing waste and reusing items, not only recycling. That is the best option in climate change terms as well as for preserving our resources and saving us money in the longer term.
So Camden Council needs to encourage waste reduction and reuse, for example buying bottled drinks should be discouraged in favour of tap water or drinks carried from home in drinks bottles.
Residents should also be encouraged to think about what they actually need, look for long-lasting items and pass on items that are no longer needed, say, through Camden Freecycle, eBay or in other ways.
In figuring out what must be done to reduce wasteful consumption, businesses need to look to new and old technologies.
Residents should also seek the advice of older members of our community who lived in a time when things were not so disposable and do their best to avoid buying and taking home unnecessary goods and packaging.
Camden Council has a key role to play in facilitating this through working closely with residents and business.
CLLR Maya de Souza
Green Party, Highgate ward

More to the story…

• I’M not surprised that Pascal Hauret of Veolia wrote to you to justify the way they collect our recycling, but they are not quite telling the whole story (Letters, May 22).
Mr Hauret is right that many councils use co-mingling – or co-mangling as it’s sometimes called – that is the mixing up all recycling together. Why is that?
Here’s the basic problem – the government sets us recycling tonnage targets, a bit like the Soviet Union used to do in its five-year plans. That’s why Camden (under Labour) brought in co-mingling in April 2006, because it’s the easiest way to increase recycling tonnage.
Residents put all their recycling in one box and it gets crushed up in the back of a “recycling” truck (which looks very much like a waste truck because it is). It then gets taken to what is euphemistically called a “Materials Recycling Facility” (MRF) in Greenwich. I’ve been there and talked to staff so I know that it’s virtually impossible for man or machine to separate the co-mingled collections properly.
For example, the paper gets so contaminated by glass fragments and the remnants of what was in the bottles and cans that no British papermaker can use it to make recycled paper. So it gets sent to the Far East.
And what happens to it there? Maybe Malaysian papermakers have lower standards or better technology. Maybe not. Either way it would make more sense not to contaminate the paper in the first place.
The glass that goes to Greenwich gets so crushed up and contaminated that no British or French bottle-maker can use it to make bottles so it’s used as aggregate for roads. The carbon cost of sending glass through a MRF for it to end up as aggregate is high. It would make much more sense to keep it out of the co-mingled collections and give it straight to companies that make bottles or jars. And, depressingly, we create more carbon dioxide putting glass through the co-mingled system than we would if we simply dumped the bottles in a landfill site.
But don’t take my word for it, ask the Campaign for Real Recycling, which was set up to try to improve the quality of UK recycling. They would prefer source-separated recycling, that is, separation at the point of collection, which is what Camden used to do and Hackney and Barnet, among others, still do.
The main downside is that this would require a new (and expensive) fleet of recycling trucks that are able to collect separated streams of recycling.
There are, I think, three other possible solutions that mean not having to replace our entire fleet:
1) Separate out the glass from the co-mingled collection to minimise contamination.
2) Collect paper and cardboard (“fibres”) separately from glass, plastic and metal (“containers”). This method allows reasonably easy automated separation of “containers” and it means any leftover food and drink in the “containers” doesn’t contaminate the paper. The whole of Germany uses this system.
3) Take the cost of waste and recycling out of the council tax and put it into the cost of the collection bag. Local shops could sell bar-coded, colour-coded bags. A black bag – for non-recyclable waste – would cost the most and a green bag, for the most valuable types of recycling, for example, metal and plastic – would cost the least.
This is what Belgium does. It’s the most radical option but my favourite because it encourages people to reduce the total amount of waste they create and to recycle more of it.
The Campaign for Real Recycling says co-mingling is the worst possible recycling system in terms of environmental impact and I agree. The leader of Camden Council is on record as saying that kerbside co-mingled collections are of dubious environmental value. And co-mingling is the main reason that Camden’s Liberal Democrats requested an audit of our recycling (which for some reason still hasn’t seen the light of day).
An administration that seeks to put sustainability at the heart of everything it does should seek to make our recycling more sustainable.
CLLR Alexis Rowell
Camden Eco Champion

All in the one bin!

• NOW let’s try to work this one out. Ever since recycling began a few years back, I have been carefully separating glass from paper and paper from plastic and all three of these from tins. It’s mildly tiresome but, as I said to myself, not so tiresome as it will be for the people living on low-lying islands and coasts when the sea levels rise.
As I remember, we were specifically asked back then to put different materials in different containers although whether it was the council who asked us or the collectors themselves I cannot now be sure. It was certainly someone sensible enough to realise the difficulties and expense of separating paper and plastic from shards of glass.
Then a week or so ago a friend came in and shrieked with laughter to see me tossing the cat food tins into the tins bag. “Don’t bother!” she cried. “They mix them all up in the truck!”
“That can’t be true!” I shrieked back. But her husband had seen the collectors dumping my and everyone else’s carefully separated recycling boxes all in together.
Now I see from your letters that dumping in together exists and is called co-mingling. And what’s more there is a debate about it – as there certainly should be. Those for co-mingling admit that it’s not ideal but assert that for the moment it is “a strategic approach to recycling”: it’s cheaper, causes fewer delays in our streets and, too, it encourages Camden residents to recycle by making it unnecessary for them to mess with separating. What’s more, it reduces the chance of contamination. That is, tossing it all into the same truck and scrunching it down together makes it less likely that the shards of glass will get mixed in with the paper which, needless to say, must be glass-free to be usable. Less likely than if we all separated the recyclables at home?
Pascal Hauret of Veolia Environmental Services points out that landfill treatment produces greenhouse gases and there is no chance of our rubbish ending up in foreign landfill. How can he be so sure?
Somehow, despite Mr Hauret’s good points, this strategy does not quite hang together. He himself writes, “ideally, we would more than welcome a scenario whereby we would not have to send recyclables abroad.”
Apparently he hasn’t a scenario. But Councillor Paul Braithwaite tells us that there is a scenario right under our noses: it’s Camden’s cross-party Sustainability Task Force. Is it not possible to renegotiate the waste disposal contract, especially in view of everyone’s increased awareness of the desperate need for intelligent recycling?
The Sustainability Task Force thinks it is and I for one am grateful to them for their determination and to the CNJ for giving space to an open discussion of these topics which are of such immense importance.
Priscilla McBride
Address supplied

Co-mingling material has led to problems with contamination

• IN response to the letter from Pascal Hauret of Veolia Environmental Services (Recycled material doesn’t end up as foreign landfill, May 22), I recently attended a meeting hosted by Camden Council on the future of the North London Waste Plan.
There it was admitted by Camden Council representatives that moving to co-mingled recycling collections was a mistake, as it resulted in wet paper too contaminated by broken glass to be used in the paper industry, and all colours of glass mixed together which is of limited use in glass recycling.
Those who can be bothered to recycle properly at all seem to have gotten into the habit of separating their recycling very readily, as elsewhere in Europe and, judging by passing kerbside inspection, many continue to do so. I would ask M Hauret: Does Veolia use these “co-mingled” collections in other European countries, for example, Germany or France?
I suspect not...
Russell Jones
Address supplied, NW3

Why fix it if it works?

• THERE is no doubt that over many years the Labour councils wasted taxpayers’ money in some areas – but if there is one thing they have given Camden taxpayers, it is an excellent waste collection service.
How many boroughs in the country have a twice- weekly domestic waste collection?
Not all boroughs recycle cardboard and plastics and I find it hard to think what materials Camden does not recycle apart from food waste.
I think Councillor Paul Braithwaite misses the point about co-mingled collection of recycled waste (Sustainability should be at the heart of our agenda, May 22).
If people are to recycle it has to be made as easy and convenient as possible for them to do so – and what is easier than one box collected weekly?
What does Cllr Braithwaite have in mind, different sacks for different items for collection on different days, a fortnightly collection?
A fine if you put plastic in a glass sack… that’s a good revenue-raising wheeze.
The twice-weekly domestic waste collection and once a week co-mingle waste collection works.
Why fix it?
Name and address supplied, NW5

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Camden New Journal, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to The deadline for letters is midday Tuesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld. Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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Your comments:

I work in the recycling industry and have done for some years, at our MRF in Barking we do not accept glass as part of the co mingled that way all our paper is sent to a newspaper re processor in Kent and is recycled back into New newspapers, we have UK markets for all our materials collected from local authorities and commercial premises. It can work with a lot more thought and a lot more clarity to whoever makes the decisions at the tendering process.
Jon Coombe


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