Lewisham’s garden bin service is £80 per year, and residents cannot put food waste in their bins

Updated story: Lewisham borough residents pay the most of any London borough to have their garden waste taken away – while their neighbours in Greenwich pay nothing for the service, research released today reveals.

Householders in Lewisham who want the council to take leaves, grass cuttings, weeds and other garden waste have to pay £80 per year for a special brown bin, the contents of which are collected each week by council staff.

But Greenwich residents get the service automatically without an extra charge – they are asked to place garden waste and food waste together in green wheelie bins, which are also collected weekly.

In Lewisham, garden waste and food waste are meant to be collected separately, with food waste going in small grey bins. But the council has admitted that the two are actually dealt with together, because it has not yet found a way of sending the food waste for anaerobic digestion – a process to produce methane gas that can be used for energy.

Lewisham residents get a small grey food bin. One Catford householder found a novel way to stop foxes getting in and taking the contents

Lewisham’s charge is the fourth most expensive in the country – Harlow in Essex charges £96. Similar services cost £30 in Southwark, £38 in Bexley and £60 in Bromley.

Greenwich is one of 10 boroughs to not charge for its service, although each borough’s scheme works differently. Most other boroughs offer a paid service, a handful offer no service at all while one, Newham, collects on request without charge.

While councils have to collect household waste and recycling, garden waste is an optional extra – householders could choose to compost it themselves. The government’s is considering whether councils should have to offer the service without charge.

Research carried out by the BBC and shared with this website found that, across the UK, 59% of councils charge for the service while 27% do it for free. Rural areas are more likely to have free collections.

David Renard, environment spokesman for the Local Government Association – and the Conservative leader of Swindon Council – told the BBC: “Ultimately, garden waste collection has to be paid for by someone. It’s only fair that those households which have gardens and generate the waste pay for the service. This is why some councils charge for this as it’s not a universal service.

“Collecting garden waste is not yet a statutory service. It is a matter for locally elected councils as to whether they charge for the service. It should be noted that the service is not free in councils that do not explicitly charge. Rather the cost is spread over the whole relevant population. The variation in cost will reflect local circumstances, such as geography.”

Greenwich’s combined garden and food waste service is free of charge

A Lewisham Council spokesperson told 853: “Garden waste is a service local authorities can charge for. Lewisham collect garden waste weekly throughout the year, where other boroughs collect fortnightly. The service is good value at around £1.53 per week for collection. At the present time, there are no plans to review our charging policy.”

Asked about anecdotal reports of council staff seen tipping food waste into garden waste bins, the spokesperson added: “Residents are allowed to put their food and green waste in one bin, but we haven’t published this as we are still looking for a way to send our waste for anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion is a natural process in which microorganisms break down organic materials.

“Organic materials (animal manures, food scraps, fats oils and greases, etc) do not include green waste and will therefore require a different method of treatment – meaning that they can’t be collected together. Anaerobic digestion is more environmentally friendly as it can be used as a method of energy from waste to power engines and produce heat and/or electricity whereas our current treatment, in-vessel composting, produces compost only.”

Lewisham’s food and garden waste is taken together to Veolia’s Southwark plant, just off the Old Kent Road. It is then taken to composting facilities in Padworth, Berkshire and in Cambridgeshire. All of Greenwich’s food and garden waste is taken together to a the same composting facility in Cambridgeshire.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told 853 that its current contract for dealing with mixed food and garden waste lasts until 2027, although it said that food waste may need to be separated out if government rules change.

“The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) have signalled that separate food waste will be mandated from 2023. At present, there are no plans to charge for the disposal of garden waste,” the spokesperson said.

A tale of two boroughs’ bins
Greenwich: Blue: Dry recycling, collected weekly Green: Garden waste and food waste, collected weekly Black: Non-recyclable waste, collected weekly
Lewisham: Green: Dry recycling, collected weekly Silver: Food waste, collection Black: Non-recyclable waste, collected fortnightly Brown: Garden waste (optional, £80 charge)

Story updated on Thursday to include quotes from Lewisham Council, and again to reflect where Lewisham’s waste is taken to. This story was produced with data from the BBC’s Shared Data Unit. For the full datasets, click here.

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