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Westminster City Council

Not exporting recyclable material could improve recycling performance

Articles in the papers recently mentioned the restrictions on recycling imports brought in by the Chinese government. These restrictions are aimed at eliminating imports of poor quality; badly sorted recyclable materials such as paper and plastics. But is this really so bad for recycling? Does this mean that some materials now don’t get recycled?

The simple answer is no. There is much more to it than this. Historically low-quality recyclables found an easy home in China which is now no longer possible. Most waste and recycling management firms are supportive of the import restrictions since they encourage higher recycling performance by making low recycling performance a lot harder. In effect, the market for recyclables is only rebalancing itself which is a good thing because low-quality recyclables don’t serve a purpose. 

Public data on the WRAP materials recycling facility portal showed that up to 50% of recycling collected from businesses in London, by some privately operating recycling collectors, was rejected by the sorting facility for being too contaminated to be processed. This means that this recycling contained too much unrecyclable waste due to poor segregation and quality control. This rejected waste was subsequently exported abroad to be burned, something which isn’t sustainable or efficient and this can easily be avoided.

What does London’s recycling performance currently look like?

Every year a staggering 195,000 tonnes of waste is collected by Westminster City Council, the highest of all the London Boroughs. This volume could easily fill up The Shard twice! Westminster City Council, with the help of Veolia, has made good progress towards improving recycling. Last month the total recycling figure hit 36% of all municipally collected waste, which is great progress towards the 50% recycling target set for 2025 within London as a whole. Most other councils have the benefit of being able to collect large volumes of garden waste which boosts performance but in Westminster this material isn’t extensively available. Not only this, but Westminster has a high proportion of tower blocks and a huge number of tourists contributing to contaminated recycling bins on our streets. London’s overall performance is not as bleak as often stated in the media; it actually compares very favourably to many other, often less dense, European cities.

The high-quality recyclable materials we collect have no trouble in finding recycling outlets and most of these materials stay in the UK. This means we don’t have a reliance on exporting recyclables to the Far East. Plastics are a good example. The plastics we collect go to a recycling facility in Dagenham which turns these into new food grade material. Or coffee cups from businesses which can be recycled into new paper for carrier bags

Is your business managing waste properly?

Westminster City Council supports the London Mayor’s Environment Strategy and welcomes the initiatives to improve proper recycling by businesses. The London Environment Strategy complements our own Greener City Action Plan perfectly. It’s one of our main objectives to clean up the air in Westminster through reducing air pollution from vehicles. By working with local businesses and stakeholders such as business improvement districts we are making real progress in reducing the number of inefficient commercial waste contractor movements an example of this is the HOLBA scheme. More Low Emission Neighbourhoods are also being created after the success of the one in Marylebone.

Collecting high-quality recycling is the key here rather than relying on the outdated ways of the past. If you want to find out more about how your business can recycle properly then please see our what waste goes where guide. Separating your waste for recycling in clearly marked bins is the first step. We can provide you with posters and stickers that you can display on your bins to ensure you’re not contaminating any recyclable waste.

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If you are using waste bags, make sure when you place your them out they don’t become a burden to visitors of your street and neighbours. Take a look at how to properly present your waste bags in Westminster.

How can you improve your recycling performance?

We have many more tips on how to reduce your waste and improve your business sustainability credentials for customers, guest, stakeholders, neighbours etc. We can advise you on how to cut down on waste. Reducing waste will also help improve your bottom line.

Download our guide including 8 quick tips on how to reduce waste.

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To go one step further, you could book a waste audit with one of our experts. They will come out to your location at a time that suits you and examine your current waste and recycling practice. From this, they will suggest to you services and practices you can put in place to improve your waste management.

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