If Recycling Rules Were the Same in Every London Borough, Would You Recycle More?

If Recycling Rules Were the Same in Every London Borough, Would You Recycle More?

In recent years, recycling levels in the UK have started to plummet – in fact, an estimated 27 million tonnes of waste already ends up on UK landfill sites per year, with recent predictions expecting all remaining space to be full within the next eight years.

We asked 2,000 London residents whether they would consider recycling more if the rules were the same in every London borough:
    •    52.07% would recycle more.
    •    47.93% wouldn’t recycle more.

Although this isn’t a marginal difference, it still represents unsatisfactory levels of recycling enthusiasm for a huge proportion of Londoners.

News vs Mobile
One notable area where the results of our survey did stand out was the percentage in mobile users compared to those who answered the question on a news website.
The table below shows that 67.82% of those who answered on a mobile app said yes, whilst only 48.43% said yes when answering on a news source.  53.01% said yes on other websites – such as shopping, entertainment and reference sites.

















And where did Boris Johnson target his campaign?  To news publications of course!  Our survey suggests he would have had more success by running a campaign on a mobile application.

The Best & Worst

According to DEFRA’s recycling report for 2015:
    •    Lewisham had the worst recycling rate at 17%.
    •    Bexley had the best at 54%

This is surprising, for Bexley have implemented an extra bin for their recycling – the maroon box that separates plastic food and drink containers/cartons from the paper and cardboard green box; whereas Lewisham provides a singular bin for all recyclable items. Bexley has also provided glass bottles and jars with a black box for collection every week. In total, Bexley have four different bins/boxes for recycling; with the last being for food recycling.
Clearly stricter recycling policies result in higher recycling rates. The rather outdated regulations Lewisham council is still using to enforce recycling has resulted in them drastically falling behind neighbouring borough of Bromley – who had a recycling rate of 48%.
In February this year, Lewisham council created ‘Let’s Talk Rubbish’, a consultation aimed at introducing changes to recycling procedures, one of which being the introduction of separate bins for plastic, paper and glass.
However, this solution is only a possibility, despite the UK’s Waste Legislation and Regulations stating that from 1st January 2015, waste collection authorities should be collecting these separately.


In 2012, Lewisham received £75,000 from Recycle for London to invest into improving their poor recycling rates. They decided to spend this on the following: 

    •    An eight paged booklet entitled ‘Your New and Improved Recycling Changes’ for 80,000 properties.
    •    Kerbside recycling bin stickers.
    •    5,000 test-run recycling contamination tags.
    •    Eight recycling banners for community events.
    •    Ten truck designs for recycling vehicles.
    •    A ‘One Year on Recycling Reminder/Thank you’ leaflet.
    •    Eight page booklet on ‘Stands for Refuse & Recycling’.

In comparison, Bexley received £107,000 from the London Waste and Recycling Board; which they used to introduce ‘The London Green Points Bexley’ – a reward scheme that is aimed at encouraging citizens to recycle more and reduce waste through rewarding points which can be redeemed and put towards a purchase of your choice. Alternatively, any points earned can be donated to one of three local charities.
Points can only be awarded if there is a reduction in residual waste and an increase in recycling for the entire community. So far, the scheme has been introduced to all flats in Bexley; with the intention of creating a similar scheme that also works for houses in the near future.
    •    Since 1998/1999, Bexley has increased recycling rates on average by 37%.
    •    Since 1998/1999, Lewisham has increased recycling rates on average by only 13%

Perhaps if Lewisham’s council had opted to invest their funding’s on improving their recycling facilities instead of marketing, the communal outlook towards recycling might have increased significantly. It is vital Lewisham strive towards introducing a more beneficial recycling system instead of advertising the need for recycling.

Quality of Living

Overall, livings standards in Bexley are substantially better than Lewisham:
Crime Rate:
    •    Between May 2015-2016, Bexley’s total crime rate was 12,600.
    •    Between May 2015-2016, Lewisham’s total crime rate was 24,736; almost double Bexley’s.

    •    39% of 19 year olds in Bexley lack qualifications.
    •    44% of 19 year olds in Lewisham lack qualifications. 

There is also a significant difference in the amount of GCSEs achieved by secondary schools in Bexley and Lewisham:

    •    97% of Beths Grammar School pupils, Bexley achieve at least 5 A*-C at GCSE including England and Maths.
    •    55% of Trinity Church of England pupils, Lewisham achieve at least 5 A*-C at GCSE including English and Maths.

    •    5.4% of Bexley’s population is unemployed.
    •    Almost 7% of Lewisham’s population is unemployed.

    •    5% of Bexley’s homes are overcrowded.
    •    12% of Lewisham’s homes are overcrowded.

    •    23% of Bexley’s children are living in poverty.
    •    34% of Lewisham’s children are living in poverty.

The amount of problems requiring urgent improvement within Lewisham realistically limit the amount of expenditure available for their council to invest into recycling; meaning it is rather shocking Bexley received considerably more funding for recycling in comparison; especially when Bexley’s 54% recycling rate already exceeds England’s 44% (2015). If Lewisham’s council had enough funding to address issues with higher priority, citizens could feel more encouraged to recycle and give back to the community.

Division by Age
Our survey identified a difference between age and willingness towards recycling:
The most willing to change were young adults and the elderly:
    •    18-24 year olds - 58.6%
    •    65+ - 59.1%
Adults ranging from 25-64 are the least likely increase their recycling:  
    •    25-34 year olds – 52.8%
    •    35-44 – 51.4%
    •    45-54 – 51.6%
    •    55-64 – 55%
    •    An average of 52.7% of 25-64 year olds said they would recycle more.

    •    Population - 232,000
    •    Households - 92,604

Residential Breakdown by Age:
    •    15-19 - 15,800
    •    20-24 - 14,800
    •    65+ - 37,280
    •    25-29 - 14,000
    •    30-34 - 14,500
    •    35-39 - 15,000
    •    40-44 - 17,700
    •    45-49 - 18,000
    •    50-54 - 15,500
    •    55-59 - 12,400
    •    60-64 - 12,800

As adults take up a large proportion of Bexley’s population and have lower enthusiasm to improve their recycling rates, even if the rules become the same for every borough;


    •    Population - 276,000
    •    Households -

Residential Breakdown by Age:
    •    15-19 - 16,200
    •    20-24 - 20,900
    •    65+ - 32,600

    •    25-29 - 26,400
    •    30-34 - 28,700
    •    35-39 - 24,300
    •    40-44 - 21,900
    •    45-49 - 20,400
    •    50-54 - 15,800
    •    55-59 - 11,500
    •    60-64 - 9,800

As adults take up a large proportion of Lewisham’s population; this could impact their overall ability to improve their 17% recycling rate. However, since 2001 Bexley has seen a:

    •    24.5% increase in citizens aged 15-24.
    •    14.1% increase in citizens aged 65+.
    •    Only a 7.9% increase in citizens aged 25-64.

Therefore, the influence younger and older generations have on recycling could change, and combining this with an increased commitment from Lewisham’s council could drastically improve their below average recycling levels.

Will it Change Anything?
Although our survey shows participants would recycle more if every London borough implemented identical recycling policies, the chances of this happening ultimately depends on the funding’s available to individual boroughs and overall circumstances, for in the case of Lewisham - education, unemployment and a decreased crime rate are understandably classed as a higher priority. Without proper financial aid, it is unlikely a unified London borough recycling policy will be introduced in the near future.
The data from our survey can be downloaded here.