Councillor Lambert comments on Dispatches programme on recycling

Channel 4 recently aired a programme called Dirty Truth About Your Rubbish: Dispatches, which it described as “A look at how millions of tonnes of household recycling end up incinerated, hiking carbon emissions, with councils locked into long and expensive waste contracts.”

Brentford councillor Guy Lambert made these comments about the programme:

“A thought provoking documentary, but experts take the view that it was very slanted.

“In case anyone is unduly worried….

  • The amount of contamination picked out by the guys on the picking line is quite limited (less than the presenter implied)
  • All of our recyclate through Southall Lane is sold for real £££s to people who see a value in it – so it is genuinely recycled (at present there is little or no market for textiles, however).
  • Food waste (managed by West London Waste Authority) goes to an anaerobic digester in Mitcham and is turned into gas for the grid (and for powering vehicles) and fertiliser. We pay about £10/tonne for this –a lot less than for residual waste
  • Garden waste (also via WLWA) goes to a biodynamic farm in Sussex where it’s composted into fertiliser (we also pay for this service, from memory ~ £30/tonne)
  • Our contract for incineration is ‘pay per throw’ so there is absolutely no incentive to increase or maintain our level of residual waste. Quite the opposite as it costs us ~ £110 per tonne to dispose of
  • Our focus is to reduce waste overall and in particular to move food waste from residual into food. Research shows us that even in houses with kerbside food waste collection 45% of the residual waste is food. We have rolled put food waste recycling to 7500 flats in blocks over the last few months and plan to increase that to 30,000 over this coming financial year
  • Our recycling rate is slowly improving – a couple of percent each year for the last two. A slightly perverse measure as we’d prefer people to produce less food waste and to compost their garden waste in their garden
  • Our residual waste is nevertheless sharply up this year – because most people are locked down at home not in offices/factories/shops/restaurants. Recycling up a little more than residual.

“She makes the point that energy from waste incineration will produce more carbon than energy from coal in due course. It is also true that electric trains produce more carbon than steam trains, for similar reasons.”

Below is a photo of the incinerator that services Hounslow, which apparently has an extremely complex and effective filtration that extracts noxious substances as they go up that tall chimney. Suez says that the emission of such substances from the plant (which services at least six West London Boroughs) is about the same as you get from four Range Rovers. The plant is very modern and will undoubtedly have been subject to reasonably high environmental standards, as the UK was subject to EU regulations when it was built.

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