Jury still out on Hackney’s recycling change

In March Hackney changed its recycling system in a move that the council expected would boost recycling rates considerably.

The change from green boxes to green bags has made recycling easier, especially for those living in flats, but provisional figures show that Hackney is recycling only 0.5% more using recycling sacks. This is not the step change that was expected.

It is still early days for the new system and we will continue to monitor the results. We will be writing to the council to seek their views on why this has happened and what more is being done to boost recycling rates.

There is much better news on commercial recycling which continues to trend upwards following the introduction of paper and cardboard recycling for businesses last year.

Sustainable Hackney obtained the figures using a freedom of information request. The council has yet to publish the data or comment on the results.


1. In March 2013 Hackney council changed the collection system for household recycling from kerb-side sorting (green box) to commingled collection (green sacks) with sorting carried out mechanically at a Material Recycling Facility (MRF).

2. Kerb-side (hand) sorting produces better quality recyclable materials than mechanical sorting. For example glass from kerb-side sort is typically recycled into bottles while mechanically sorted glass is used for road materials. The council is aware of this but decided that the expected increases in quantity were more of a priority.

3. Kerb-side sorting also typically has lower rejection rates (less than 1%). The rejection rate for the MRF is given as 5.2% and this is taken into account in the recycling figures.

4. Recycling sacks do have advantages over the green boxes. They are easier for people living in flats and the collection vehicles move more quickly reducing congestion in some streets. 21% of properties in Hackney are not suitable for the green box system. A hybrid system (boxes for street properties and bags for flats) was not considered financially viable by the council.

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Comment by Sustainable Hackney on September 13, 2013 at 16:42

We've had this response from Cllr Feryal Demirci the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods

Re: Latest recycling data

Thank you for your email of 3 September 2013 regarding the above matter.

With regard to obtaining regular information about the Council's recycling performance, all residents are able to obtain a detailed level of municipal waste data from Waste Data Flow at www.wastedataflow.org. This portal provides public access to accurate reconciled data.

In addition, Hackney Council updates its own recycling performance page at www.hackney.gov.uk/recycling-rate as frequently as practicably possible, whilst also ensuring compliance with statutory returns which are jointly signed off with the North London Waste Authority.

As illustrated on your graph, the new commingled sack service for street level properties has seen an increased level of household waste recycled or composted to 25.3%, compared to 24.1% during the equivalent period last year. This is a significant improvement and it supports the drive towards the Council target for overall household recycling performance of 26.5% for 2013/14. The new service also covers thousands of properties that previously did not have any home recycling service.

The projected increases in performance expected from the service were based upon the extensive trial that was carried out in the Cazenove ward during 2011-12.  The trial results saw a 26.1% increase in dry recyclable tonnage collected.  A similar change in performance is anticipated on a borough-wide scale, but this may not be seen until early 2014 when phase 2 of the commingled service has been implemented and is established. To be clear, however, this figure represents the commingled dry recycling element of the service collected from street level properties on the green sack service – it is not the increase by which Hackney's overall recycling rate will grow.

It is important to understand that if this increase in tonnage seen during the trial is achieved across the borough-wide service, it will equate to an increase in the Council's overall recycling rate in the region of 2%. Whilst I appreciate that you might not consider this to be a large figure, a change of this magnitude has not been seen achieved since the 2006-08 period, when large scale service developments were introduced with a wide range of new materials added to the collection service, extensive trials of different collection methodologies on estates and a borough-wide roll out of compulsory recycling. Therefore, if the anticipated 2% increase in performance is accomplished, this will in fact be a significant achievement and a ‘step change’.

I have been advised that since the introduction of the new service there has been a very low level of service issues and resident complaints, which supports the strong performance and good service levels recorded.

Phase 2 of the commingled service changes, which will introduce a same-day collection and an area approach to rounds and beats, is planned for implementation in November 2013. This aims to introduce further operational efficiencies and increase the ease of use of service for residents through streamlining services. Once this next phase is implemented and established, the service will fully replicate that of the trial in Cazenove.

The commingled sack service for street level properties (including flats above shops) is the only service affected by these changes; the organics collections for street level properties (food waste and garden waste recycling), as well as the dry and organic services for estate and high-rise properties, bring sites and schools collections, all remain unchanged. Enhancements in some of these other service elements are required to work towards the challenging targets faced over the coming years, particularly increasing recycling performance from our estate-based properties which comprise more than 50% of Hackney's housing stock. A range of projects and initiatives are being developed and implemented to drive this forwards as part of the comprehensive delivering integrated waste and environment programme.

Finally, with regard to Hackney's commercial recycling service, as your graph illustrate this has seen significant growth recently. This is due to an increased portfolio of customers and an expansion in the commingled and glass services.

I hope that this information is helpful and addresses your concerns. If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact the Recycling service on 020 8356 6688 or at recycling@hackney.gov.uk.


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