Greenwich could follow Lewisham in charging for garden waste collections

Greenwich Council could follow its neighbouring boroughs in charging residents for collecting their garden waste – six weeks after denying it had any plans to bring in such a scheme.

A updated waste strategy to come before the council’s cabinet next week proposes introducing fortnightly collection of general waste, charging £30 per year for garden waste collections, introducing small bins for collecting food waste, refusing to collect waste that is not in a wheelie bin and restricting the distribution of plastic sacks for recycling.

The council will ask the public what they think of the ideas, which are part of plans to address the climate emergency and to boost Greenwich’s recycling rate from its current level of 35%. It incinerates 64% of waste and puts 3% into landfill. Bexley is London’s top borough for recycling with 52%, Newham is the worst with just 14%.

Lewisham offers residents 23-litre food waste bins – one resident in Catford found this way to keep them out of the way of foxes. Greenwich proposes introducing 40-litre bins

In September, 853 reported that Lewisham residents paid the most of any London borough to have garden waste collected. At the time, a Greenwich spokesperson said the council had no plans to charge for its service, which sees food and garden waste collected together. Both boroughs use the same plant in Cambridgeshire to compost food and garden waste together.

However, the new strategy proposes to operate a service similar to Lewisham’s, where garden waste has been collected separately for an annual charge for the past two years. Lewisham charges £80 per year, but Greenwich officers propose a lower charge of £30 per year, which would mean the service would pay for itself within a year and a half. Food waste would be collected in small 40-litre bins.

“Evidence shows that when food waste is presented for collection separately it increases the number of participants that recycle their food waste and raises people’s awareness of the amount of food they are throwing away, resulting in people becoming more mindful of this and wasting less,” the report says, suggesting residents could still take garden waste to the council’s recycling centre in Thamesmead or compost it themselves, with the possibility of the council offering free or cut-price composting bins.

There is no word on whether this will affect one cherished Greenwich service – the free collection of Christmas trees. In Lewisham, residents who do not pay for garden waste collections, have to take them to be collected from parks; in Bexley, residents do not even have that option.

The Conservative government has proposed making separate food waste collections compulsory from 2023, and officers note that Greenwich may lose out on special funding for this if it adopts a scheme before then.

While fortnightly general waste collections may make controversial headlines, most authorities in England now operate them. Greenwich plans to consult on three options, two of which include fortnightly collections, which it says will cut down on emissions from bin lorries. It is also considering replacing all black-top bins with smaller models – although this could cost £1.3m.

Greenwich Council bins
Greenwich’s current bin collection service was introduced in 2008

Free recycling sacks – used by some residents to prevent bin crews leaving recycling all over the road – would be restricted to people whose homes are unsuitable for wheelie bins under the scheme to cut down on single-use plastics. And with councils incentivised to make sure their recycling is uncontaminated, there would be a crackdown on people dumping general waste in recycling bins, with the council simply refusing to collect the bins and leaving householders to fish out the offending materials themselves.

With the general election campaign in full swing, and Greenwich’s proposed scheme in line with current government policy, it would be hard for the Conservatives to criticise such a scheme – Bexley, whose deputy leader Louie French is standing for the Tories in Eltham, also has a similar service. Indeed, Bexley is going further than Greenwich and phasing in fortnightly recycling collections from next week, alternating paper and cardboard with plastics and glass.

But the report also admits Greenwich faces challenges – nearly half its homes are flats, which are difficult to collect recycling from. There is also little on how changes will be enforced. If approved, the consultation will run for six weeks from the end of the month.

Who collects what and when?
Greenwich (since 2008): Blue: Dry recycling, collected weekly Green: Garden waste and food waste, collected weekly Black: Non-recyclable waste, collected weekly
Lewisham (since 2017): Green: Dry recycling, collected weekly Silver: Food waste, collected weekly Black: Non-recyclable waste, collected fortnightly Brown: Garden waste (optional, £80 charge)
Bexley (from 11 November): White: Plastic bottles, cans, food trays, glass, foil, collected fortnightly Blue: Paper, cardboard, collected fortnightly Green: Non-recyclable waste, collected fortnightly Food recycling box, collected weekly Brown: Garden waste (optional, £38 charge)

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