Plastic film and a taxidermy crocodile are just a couple of the non-recyclable items fished off a conveyor belt at Southwark’s Integrated Waste Management Facility, one of the better-performing recycling centres in inner London. ‘Recycling is all about trying to get down to one material,’ says Richard Kirkman, Veolia’s chief technology and innovation officer. ‘So things like snappy yoghurt pots and crisp packets are frustrating for us because they are made up of multiple, hard-to-separate layers.’ The facility processes 1,000 tons of waste a day, sending just 2 per cent to landfill. Stuff that can’t be recycled is burnt for energy to heat 2,600 homes in the borough. In fact, more than half of London’s waste is burnt for energy. While preferable to burying, it’s not the low-carbon solution we need to combat global warming. So what about big or obscure things that don’t go in the recycling bin at home? Take them to a local facility: they differ by borough, but Lewisham’s reuse and recycling facility in New Cross, for example, accepts everything from fridges and light bulbs to used cooking oil.
The contents of our bins might not keep us all up at night, but London’s recycling is the stuff of hippy nightmares. According to Defra, only 33 percent of London’s household litter is recycled and we send 1 million tons of rubbish to landfill per year. With the sites accepting our trash under growing pressure, Sadiq Khan has pledged to send no biodegradable or recyclable waste to landfill by 2026. And there’s a growing movement of reusable-coffee-cup-swigging environmentalists on a mission to make us a zero-waste city. London’s first zero-waste Christmas market takes place at Hoxton Arches on December 8 and bulkbuy shops are opening up across town. Here’s how you can do your bit to zero in on household waste.