Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of MRW, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Compelling evidence

It all began as an informal discussion: mulling over the possibilities, the objections and, of course, the legality but on April 1 this year the London Borough of Barnet took the plunge and introduced compulsory recycling and it was no joke.

Barnet already provided a kerbside black box collection, weekly flats recycling collection, kerbside garden waste collection, bring banks and a civic amenity and recycling centre but, despite this, less than 20% of households were taking part in the recycle from home service. Something had to give and Barnet councillors were unafraid of drastic measures.

In 2003/4, Barnet had a statutory standard target of 18%. It reached 16.71% having collected 22,637 tonnes for recycling. However, 2005/6 holds a statutory standard of 27% with a Local Public Service Agreement stretching this to 30%. This means that Barnet will have to collect 47,170 tonnes for recycling. In order to meet their targets, the powers that be at Barnet believed that compulsory recycling was the way forward.

According to environmental services manager Nicola Buck, it was the enthusiasm of the councillors that was instrumental in driving forward the compulsory scheme. Informal discussions surrounding its possibility began in summer 2003 followed by more detailed discussions with councillors who agreed the introduction in December that year. In February 2004 the details of the scheme were decided.

However, before Barnet could get down to the nitty gritty of rolling out compulsory recycling, the boroughs legal position had to be checked. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, part 2, section 46, the council can specify what containers can be used for what materials. So it was decided that glass, paper and cans must be put into the black box and general waste in the black wheeled bin.

If, after a formal warning, someone does not comply with the scheme then they can be fined, says Buck. However, this is not a money-making scheme for Barnet as the magistrate keeps the money if there is a conviction.

The first phase of the scheme began in four wards: Totteridge, East Barnet, Oakleigh and Brunswick Park areas that had the greatest participation rates in the black box recycling scheme. During this first phase we are monitoring progress and making any necessary improvements to the scheme before introducing it throughout the borough, says Buck. When we began in April we were overwhelmed by the publicity as the press had firmly latched on to the fine element of the scheme.


Barnet planned a strong publicity programme before the launch to ensure that the 25,000 residents across the four wards knew what was expected of them. The first press release went out on March 26 and Barnet was splashed across local and national TV, papers and radio. A series of discussions were held with ECT Recycling, Barnets waste service provider and an all-hands-on-deck policy enforced during the launch. Says Buck: I cant say that I was the most popular person in the office when I cancelled all leave as the scheme was introduced but it was important that everyone was here to make sure it went as smoothly as possible to answer any questions the residents had. ECT offered a helpline and, apart from a few random callers including one from Cornwall asking if compulsory recycling affected them this back up proved successful.

Barnet has a detailed database of all properties on the scheme, which only applies to houses and not those with shared recycling facilities. Recycling assistants visit houses that do not regularly recycle to establish whether this is simply non-compliance, if the property has become multi-occupancy, or if the resident is unable to lift the box with recycled materials in it, in which case ECT provide assisted collection.

Initial results showed 2,591 box requests and an 18.6% increase in tonnage collected a 20% increase in the compulsory recycling area and a 17.6% outside it. Results up to September 30 show 5,555 box reque

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.