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Town and country comparison does recycling no good

By Maggie Thurgood

While Londons recycling and composting targets may be testing, they are not the only challenge the capital faces. Both the proliferation of targets and the basis for setting them are also under scrutiny.

Consultancy David Davies Associates, which conducted the research for the Resource Recovery Forum (RRF), says that achievable levels of diversion by recycling and composting are directly linked to population density and area type.

For example, the research which covers North America as well as a number of European countries shows that the highest recycling and composting rates, of 5560%, are typically only achieved in rural areas with fewer than 250 people per square kilometre. A few successful examples of this level of diversion in this kind of community can be found in most countries and often these are the ones held up as models.

The research found that only the best performing small towns with fewer than 1,000 people per km2 can reach 50% recycling/composting rates, while even the best performing provincial areas (with 1,0002,500 people per km2) seldom exceed 45% recycling/composting rates.

Finally, large, densely populated metropolitan areas, with population densities in excess of 3,000 per km2, are only likely to achieve 3036% at best. Every London borough has a population density greater than 4,000 per km2.

New York City, which is the largest and most densely populated city studied in this research, has never exceeded 21% despite having mandatory recycling since 1989, and an entire population served by kerbside collection. Whats more, research in New York has shown that 25% diversion through recycling and composting is likely to be the maximum achievable. This is in part because the very high combined recycling and composting rates such as that in Daventry, Northamptonshire, which reached 44% last year rely heavily on green waste diversion. More than two-thirds of Daventrys high figure came from green waste composting. In large cities such as London and New York, there are few sources of garden waste.



Comparison

Basing targets for one area on what has been achieved in another area is unsound, the research says. Making the unfounded assumption that if small town A can recycle 50%, then so can large city B, has resulted in excessively and improbably high targets being written into municipal waste strategies. The situation has been made worse by non-Government organisations outbidding each other to propose yet higher targets says the report. While pressure groups rightly campaign for aspirational goals, it says, building public policy on such aspirations is dangerous.

Cory corporate development director Peter Johnson warns that waste contractors should not go on pretending we can do something we cant in terms of recycling. He refers to last years public enquiry into Corys Western Riverside energy-from-waste proposals for London, at which the recycling targets were criticised for being unambitious.

It is somewhat preposterous to compare Wandsworth and Winchester, he says. You might as well compare all districts beginning with A. Using the Hampshire and Western Riverside figures as examples to illustrate the folly of comparisons, he notes that waste arisings per head are 18% higher in Hampshire, which has an annual figure of 513kg per person compared with 433kg per person, so recycling rates based on percentages are bound to look better. And yet these high rates still leave Hampshire disposing of more waste per head each year than Western Riverside.

Referring to the influence of population density, he says Hampshire has a population almost double that of Western Riverside, but in an area 42 times larger. Whats more, Hampshire residents send three and half times more waste to civic amenity (CA) sites than those in Western Riverside, and CA waste accounts for 25% of Hampshires waste recycling and composting figures. Johnson says the contribution from CA sites is the principal reason f

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