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Rubbish problems improving, but there’s still a long way to go

Raindrops on snowdrops and warm swollen mittens, etc. etc. may have been some of Julie Andrews favourite things but rubbish and recycling, street litter and fly-tipping are some of West Hampstead’s least favourite.

When the Neighbourhood Development Forum was drawing up its plans a few years ago, the issue of rubbish generally came up as having a significant impact on the quality of life for locals, but it falls outside the scope of the NDF as it is not strictly a planning issue.

Then, as you all know, in April this year the council introduced a new rubbish and recycling collection contract with Veolia. Not surprisingly there were what the responsible councillor, Meric Apak, optimistcally called ‘teething issues’. In reality there was a massive spike in complaints. True, these have subsided but there continues to be a constant stream of tweets and photos of fly-tipped waste in the area, and not all from Conservative activists out to make political capital from the issue.

Against this backdrop, local amenity group WHAT held a meeting about rubbish and recycling earlier in the year before the contract was introduced. In July and August it followed up with a survey, mainly of their members (but also WHL readers) on how the new contract was working. It may not be the most representative slice of the local population, but nevertheless it still gives a sense of where we stand.

WHAT summarised the survey findings and held another public meeting last week to present the results to both Camden and Veolia. The meeting was pleasingly well attended – this is clearly still a hot local issue – though if everyone who vociferously complains on Twitter had turned up the room would barely have had capacity.

West Hampstead giving Camden and Veolia a grilling

In summary, the issues raised in the report based on the survey are:

  • Overall there is a willingness to recycle
  • Fly-tipping and the state of the local streets was an issue
  • Fly-tipping hot spots
  • Bins being left on streets is a problem, who puts them back?
  • Garden waste collection was a bit unclear
  • More detailed info on what can and can’t be recycled
  • A lot of the problems are focused on houses divided into flats
  • Why don’t the Veolia team report back problems?
  • Attaching notices to ‘contaminated’ recycling bins
  • More enforcement

Richard Bradbury, who is responsible for the contract responded on behalf of Camden, backed up by Chris Burrows from Veolia. There has been a 10% improvement in recycling (by tonnage), but that only takes Camden from near the bottom of table to a bit below average. Richard reminded us that not all of Camden has switched to fortnightly collections as much of the south of the borough continues to get weekly collections.

Camden pays £40/tonne less for recycled waste than for landfill; perhaps they should make more of this to encourage those who gripe about costs generally to do their part to reduce Camden’s spending here so it can be reallocated elsewhere.

Chris from Veolia pointed out that they collect from 1,500 properties a day in the area, and now have on-board technology to start feeding back problem collections. He is already aware of many of these problems and the plan is to approach problem households in the Autumn.

The early problems with getting the right bins to the right people seem to have largely been cleared up, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the online ordering system works fairly well.

Garden waste collections can be shared but only from one address. Their systems can’t cope with changing addresses. This is for up to three bags per week.

Richard agreed that engagement with estate agents was a good idea in order to pass on the most up-to-date information to new residents, especially tenants. There are already plans to contact landlords registered with Camden (though of course this is only a small fraction of them). Local litter hound Agnes pointed out that Camden did have control over Council owned properties and some leeway over Housing Association ones, which is where a large number of the problems are (as these properties are divided into flats).

Richard Bradbury from Camden on the spot.

As for West End Lane (and KHR, Fortune Green Road and Mill Lane) all of which have flats above shops, both the businesses and flats are supposed to have time-banded collections. This means rubbish should be left outside at very specific times and is collected much more frequently. It’s true that for some people those times are not practical, and thus the problem of dumped rubbish can seem worse than it really is. Generally on West End Lane the system works quite well – but there is little evidence of recycling on these streets (recognisable by the use of clear bags).

Next came discussion on the vexing question of where people should leave bins on collection day, and where they should be returned. If the bins are within one metre of your gate, the original leaflets stated that ‘all containers will be returned to where you placed them for collection.’ However, this is not happening. Cllr Flick Rea cited an example of a neighbour who actually built a bin store for their two bins adjacent to the street and they are still not being returned.

Indeed, some bins seem to be permanently left on the street. There is a property on Hillfield Road, which since April 1st has permanently left the bins on the street. Less than half the bin capacity is used so there is no need for any bins to be left on the street. Yet in six months of weekly recycling collection and fortnightly regular collection, plus weekly visits by the street sweepers no action had been taken.

Next we heard from a woman who is not only a local resident but also a landlord of an HMO (House for Multiple Occupation as opposed to separate flats). She expressed extreme frustration at problems with collection saying there had been times when rubbish hadn’t been collected for weeks, and at being allocated bins that were too big for the space.

The Clean Camden App for reporting fly-tipping was also mentioned. If you don’t use it already then it’s worth installing but although it deals with the issue it doesn’t tackle the underlying problem of flytipping in the first place. There are now six enforcement officers spread across the borough, who between tham have issued 50 fixed penalty notices in the past two weeks.

It seemed that both Camden and Veolia were surprised at the extent of the problems and the barrage of questions from what was a largely pro-recycling and mild-mannered audience. Local elections are six months away, and there were five sitting councillors in the room. If, somehow, they had yet to appreciate the scale of the problem they left the meeting in no doubt that there is much work still to be done before anyone can consider the new arrangement a true success.

Fortnightly waste collections for West Hampstead

At last night’s public Area Action Group meeting in West Hampstead, the council gave plenty of stats on Camden’s waste and recycling. But the numbers that will have stuck in most people’s minds were “once” and “every two weeks”, as councillor Meric Apak confirmed what we reported in August; namely that much (though not all) of West Hampstead will move to fortnightly residual waste collections from April 1st. No joke.

Recycling and food waste will still be collected weekly, and this is a clear attempt by Camden to both save money and boost dwindling recycling rates. On top of that, residents who want green waste collection will have to pay £75/year.

Although the turnout last night was down on previous meetings (perhaps due to the tube strike),  there was still a useful and lively discussion though there seemed little chance of the council and unenthused residents – at least those present – finding common ground.

The facts are stark: Camden deals with 46,000 tonnes of domestic residual waste a year but only 26% of waste is recycled – a proportion that’s actually fallen over time. Yet Camden’s estimate is that 85% of household waste is recyclable.

To prove a point, earlier in the day, Richard Bradbury, head of Camden’s Environmental Services, had collected 17 bags of domestic waste from West Hampstead properties. He didn’t go so far as to bring them with him to the meeting, but he had sorted these 17 bags into 5 bags of recyclable material, 4 bags of food waste and just 3 of residual waste. Five bags fewer in total, and only three of the 17 should have been heading to landfill (an 82% recycling rate).

In 2011/12, Camden residents recycled 33% of their waste, so why has this fallen to just 26% today (about the same level as in 2004), especially after the new green wheelie bin regime was introduced in 2012 to make recycling easier? Camden’s target for 2020 is 40%, but to reach this, the council is relying on an awful lot of stick and not much carrot. Camden is not alone – just over half of London boroughs have seen a decline in recycling rates over recent years.

The hope is that fortnightly collections will encourage people to recycle more as recycling will still be collected once a week. We shall see if that happens. Importantly, not all streets will move to fortnightly collections – only existing kerbside collections are affected. The maps below will help most people, but for precise details, contractor Veolia has a very useful and clear search function so you can see how you’ll be affected.

west-hampstead-rubbish

In West Hampstead and Fortune Green, some streets will still keep weekly collections. This is usually related to housing density and availability of space for bins. On the commercial strip of West End Lane, rubbish will still be collected daily, with residents being given enough bags for up to two collections a week.

fortune-green-rubbish

All the streets in South Hampstead will move to fortnightly collections.

swiss-cottage-rubbish

Commercial rubbish is collected daily on West End Lane - though it's not always left correctly. Photo @Superfast72

Commercial rubbish is collected daily on West End Lane – though it’s not always left correctly. Photo @Superfast72

Alongside the change to fortnighly collections, there will be (yet another) crackdown on fly-tipping with more investigation. The council clears 2,000 tonnes of fly-tipped waste a year (of which surely at least 1,990 tonnes comes from West Hampstead). The bin men won’t take black bags that don’t fit into your bin (in fact they’ll photograph them for evidence so when you ring up to complain they’ll tell you you exceeded your allowance), and apparently there’ll be a lot of ‘education’.

Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea wondered what will happen when Christmas comes around, or a birthday party, or someone moving, all of which generate extra waste. Residents will also receive new black bins.

There are a tonne of caveats and other minor changes. For example, there’ll be a free weekly nappy collection service available to households with children under the age of 2 1/2 who wear nappies. Read all about them on Camden’s website.

Egregious fly tipping on Mill Lane from August 2016. Photo @damawa42

Egregious fly tipping on Mill Lane from August 2016. Photo @damawa42

Questions from the public included whether Camden would be checking our waste (Camden wearily said “no” several times) and under what legislation we are required to recycle, the answer appeared to be none, though frankly – economics aside – it shouldn’t take legislation to get people to want to help minimize landfill. Some residents also pointed out that if Camden wanted to increase recycling it would help if it made it easier. There is also a contradiction between Camden’s policy of reducing car ownership and car use and the regular refrain of ‘you can take it to the Regis Road recycling centre’, when anyone enquires about recycling something slightly out of the ordinary… like a toaster.

What are your thoughts on this? Good incentive? Unworkable? Open to abuse? Time for people to take some responsibility for the environment? Let us know in the comments.