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Grime and punishment

On April 1, the London Borough of Barnet stopped kidding around when it comes to recycling rates. From that date residents faced potential fines of up to £1,000 for failing to participate in the local authoritys recycling collections.

The borough is trialling the compulsory recycling scheme with more than 25,000 households in four wards in the first phase of the scheme. Residents must place glass bottles, jars, tins, cans, paper and magazines in their black recycling box, supplied by the council, and not in the standard wheeled refuse bins.

Failure to do so will result first in warnings and formal notices for those residents who persistently and deliberately fail to recycle and, as a last resort, the council could prosecute the most persistent offenders and impose a fine of up to £1,000.

Totteridge, East Barnet, Oakleigh and Brunswick Park wards have been chosen for the first six-month phase of the project because they currently have the best participation rates. The scheme will be closely monitored during the first six months to make any necessary improvements before it is rolled out throughout the borough from October in an innovative and controversial scheme believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

The council describes it as part of its drive to create a cleaner, greener borough. The aim of this ambitious approach is to dramatically increase the amount of household waste recycled in the borough and to help the council reach the challenging recycling targets it has been set.

Prior to the scheme just over 15% of household waste was recycled in Barnet, but the council has set a 30% target for the year 2005/6. It already has a wide-ranging weekly kerbside scheme, as well as a more limited estates and high-rise pick up service, both of which it operates with contractor ECT.

The latest figures supplied by Barnet are encouraging. In April 2003 Barnet collected 979.2 tonnes on its kerbside recycling scheme. By April 2004 that figure had jumped to 1,161.22 tonnes. Both months had 22 working days and so there has been a net improvement of 182.02 tonnes for the period, an increase of 18.6%.

ECT, the community-recycling scheme that runs Barnet services, has welcomed the councils bold move. Managing director Andy Bond said: It makes sense to encourage people not to put recyclable materials in the bin because it costs the council money and damages the environment. The move to compulsory recycling is common in countries with the highest recycling rates and many councils will be watching with interest.

I have to be honest, when we first discussed this with the council there was an element of terror about how the local residents would take it, says John Sharkey, ECT general manager for Barnet.

But the scheme has actually been very well received. We thought that we would have to field a lot of complaining calls and to be fair weve had two or three, but we have also had a huge influx of calls about getting the black recycling box.

Sharkey says that the scheme was well publicised around the borough and that it seems to have galvanised the boroughs residents, encouraging them to take action. Orders for the boxes were up three or four times on usual, he says, and the feedback was very positive. What has been interesting is that the uptake from people not in the area being tested has gone up, so it has had a wider effect than just on the test area.

Of course the scheme at face value is about the stick approach rather than the carrot. And although decisions are yet to be made concerning how exactly the scheme will be policed, Sharkey believes that the most effective way is for the main refuse collectors to be monitoring household waste rather than for ECT to be reporting back on non-recyclers.

The problem is there are so many factors for why someone might not have a box out, he reflects. They might be on holiday or they might be recycling at one of our household waste recycling centres, so they are active recyclers but ju

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