Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Co-mingling / Co-mangling

I have been doing lots of research on co-mingled recycling, which is the system we've got in Haringey at present. As I have long suspected, NOT recycling is actually better than putting things into a co-mingled system. I sent the following letter to Cllr Brian Haley, cabinet member for Environment and Conservation at Haringey Council:

Dear Cllr Brian Haley,

I have recently heard from my local councillor Rachel Allison that Haringey Council are soon going to look again at their recycling scheme.

I live on the Summersby Road estate in N6, and we had recycling facilities introduced earlier this year, after two years of asking for bins to be delivered. Residents have taken to recycling easily, and the bins are regularly full.

However, we have discussed at Residents’ Association meetings the issue of co-mingled versus separated recycling facilities, and it largely agreed that we would prefer the latter scheme.

There are many reasons why separated recycling is better than co-mingled (aka co-mangled!), as I am sure you are already aware, namely:

A recent WRAP report pointed to the fact that only 12-15% of co-mingled recycling actually ends up getting recycled. If Haringey was really recycling, as it claims, 25% of its waste, that would still be low. But 12-15% of 25% is truly scandalous in 2008.
Glass that has been put into co-mingled recycling facilities is so degraded that it can only be used as road aggregate. Andy Moore of the Campaign for Real Recycling told me that recently roadfill people have been rejecting loads of late.
The paper gets so contaminated by glass fragments and the remnants of what was in the bottles and cans that no British papermaker can use it to make recycled paper. So it gets sent to the Far East. And what happens to it there? Maybe Malaysian papermakers have lower standards or better technology. Maybe not. Either way it would make more sense not to contaminate the paper in the first place.
A recent report showed that Greenwich’s co-mingled scheme ADDED 77% to the carbon footprint. In other words, people would be better off not recycling at all. This is disheartening, as residents are keen to ‘do their bit’ for the environment by recycling, an activity they undertake in good faith.

I know that by collecting a co-mingled recycling load you can increase tonnage and meet government targets more readily, but as discussion at our residents’ meetings has shown, people are not ignorant. They are wholly suspicious of co-mingling, as well they should be.

I also understand that by switching to separated recycling facilities, it may mean more collection lorries on the road. However, I can see two possible solutions:

1) Separate out the glass from the co-mingled collection to minimise contamination. This could be done relatively easily by giving residents a separate bag for glass.
2) Collect paper and cardboard (“fibres”) separately from glass, plastic and metal (“containers”). This method allows reasonably easy automated separation of “containers” and it means any leftover food and drink in the “containers” doesn’t contaminate the paper. The whole of Germany uses this system.

Regarding the increased trucks on the street, so we could fuel them using biomethane made from food waste, which has virtually no carbon or noxious emissions, and which Veolia is currently trialling in Camden.

It makes sense to switch to switch to separated facilities if Haringey TRULY wants to be the ‘Greenest Borough’. From an economic point of view, materials will be of a greater quality and therefore result in an increased revenue.

I hope you take the responsible, the ‘green’ and the correct decision, and opt for separated recycling facilities at the soonest possible opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter,

Yours Sincerely,

Sarah Mitchell
Chair, Summersby Road Residents’ Association.


  1. Wycombe District Council provide me with two recycling bins: one for paper & cardboard, one for tins and plastics. They don't collect glass from us (though there are bins a-plenty in the district) and they have a composter scheme as well.

    At work we use a company called First Mile - here's what they do:

    "The bags of recyclate are mechanically sorted at a plant in Greenwich. High Grade paper is
    sorted and sold back to paper companies to make recycled paper, while the remaining paper
    goes to make anything from newsprint to toilet paper. The glass, metals and plastics are
    separated and recycled back into bottles, tins and plastic products.

    The recyclable materials which we collect from businesses and organisations across Central
    London are taken to a huge MRF (Materials Recovery Factory), operated by Grosvenor
    Waste Management Limited, at Century Wharf, Crayford Creek, in Crayford, near the border
    of Greater London and Kent."

  2. Hi Sarah
    Co-mingling is far from perfect, and the Campaign for Real Recycling are basically right, but I'd be very wary about saying that it's better not to recycle than use the current system. Yes Councils and the government need to sharpen up their act, help develop the industry to process recyclate more locally etc, but the alternative to not recycling, however badly it is currently done, is either incinceration or landfill, neither of which the Green Party support. We are also in a situation where lots of people don't bother to recycle anyway, so there's a huge job still to be done in persuading people to recycle at all. I wrote about the Greenwich MRF a while back on: my blog
    Best wishes
    Sue Luxton (Green Party councillor for Ladywell, Lewisham)

  3. PS: Nice blog btw, I've added you to my blogroll!

  4. I think Sarah is onto something here. This appears to be a merely cosmetic exercise.

    When I was young, we used to return bottles for reuse (something like 5p deposit), and of the milk bottles were collected (on electic vehicles) and reused.

    I expect there is more money to be had in selling bottles to path builders.

    Green Socialism @ Red Pepper