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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Recycle or Pay

Air Date: Week of

A pilot project in northern London is drawing attention from other cities. Residents must separate their garbage into bins of glass, paper and cans, or face a hefty fine. Don Magilliray of Deutsche Welle Radio has our story.


CURWOOD: And speaking of London, residents of the North London borough of Barnett now have a choice about what to do with their recyclable materials. They can separate their used glass bottles, paper, and tin cans into a black box for pickup. Or they can stick it all into the rubbish bin and face a fine that translates into more than eighteen hundred dollars. Okay, for most folks that’s not really much of a choice. Dom MacGillivray has our story about efforts to turn reluctant recyclers into rabid reusers.


MACGILLIVRAY: Into the back of the truck, Terry Bradshaw unloads a black box filled with old newspapers... wine bottles... mayonnaise jars and soup cans...Bradshaw says after a few years on the job he can tell a lot about people by their recycled rubbish... he analyzes the contents from this house in Milton Avenue, north London.

BRADSHAW: I’d say they’re quite average really, don’t drink a lot of alcohol. But I say they, most of the food they eat is in tins.


BRADSHAW: I say they’re weekend drinkers. Saturday evening wine with food. The money we can make out of the recycling can go to cancer and can start improving things for people that, you know…

MACGILLIVRAY: Bradshaw takes a few seconds to scan the street. He notes the houses that have signed up in the past couple of months.

BRADSHAW: A lot of people are recycling a lot more. Before, this house didn’t do it and now it is and one over the road just there- they never used to and now they do. These two houses have started recycling since January.

MACGILLIVRAY: These houses have started recycling since January because they were threatened with a 1,500 Euro fine.

OFFERED: We are not engaging in activity where we go through people’s bins, no, we don’t do that. We know who’s recycling, who’s not.

MACGILLIVRAY: Local Councillor Mathew Offered says only 20 per cent of household rubbish is being recycled in his borough of Barnett. Not nearly enough, he says. They’re aiming for at least 30 percent. They are imposing fines because they feel this is the only way to shake people into action.

OFFERED: Recycling operatives go round. If they notice there’s a house with a recycling box that hasn’t had anything in for some weeks, they’ll report back to the recycling assistants who can then go and call on the property and speak to the homeowners and find out if there’s anything we can do to help them recycle. Some people have said in the past, “well, we didn’t know what to put in the black box,” so we explain it to them and they have recycled. Other people who are maybe elderly, concerned or disabled, find it difficult to lift the heavy box. So we can provide an assisted collection. We can help them out with that, as well. It’s those people that then, after we’ve helped them, and spoken to them, who then refuse to recycle, they’re the ones we’d be looking for, in terms of addressing them with a fine.

MACGILLIVRAY: Sheldon Weitsman watches Bradshaw's crew empty another box of bottles and newspapers into the truck. Weitsman has been recycling for less
than a month. He started for one reason.

WEITSMAN: To be honest because they’re talking about fines for not doing it. Really, that’s it.

MACGILLIVRAY: Weitsman, a man in his middle age, is a reluctant recycler.
Some of his neighbors have been bundling up their black boxes for years,
but until now he's always managed to resist. Perhaps it's his age, this may be something young people do.

WEITSMAN: My children recycle. So it’s become a way of life with them. They all sort their rubbish out. It’s a natural thing.

MACGILLIVRAY: Weitsman has plenty of company. Numerous borough residents are complaining. They say rubbish is their private property and they don 't need the state telling them how to dispose of it. They’re especially upset with the threat of a substantial fine. Ben Saunders who organizes the recycle pick-up program says they may have a point.

SAUNDERS: The general feel is, is animosity towards being fined and being told what to do. I’m not entirely sure that a compulsory recycling scheme is the way forward. It’s that sort of big brother syndrome, you know, you’ve got to do this or we’re going to financially deprive you. But it’s difficult, I don’t know. It’s just something that I, it obviously works, there’s no doubt about that, but whether it’s morally correct, I’m not sure.

MACGILLIVRAY: Councillor Matthew Offered has heard the complaints, but he can't see the problem. Instead of placing all the rubbish in one bin, he says split it up, put it in two bins: one for recycling, the other for rubbish. Everything is free: the black boxes and the weekly pickup.

OFFERED: We’ve made it as simple as possible for the local residents and the people won’t do it. We don’t know why they won’t. Perhaps they feel that they shouldn’t have to, they don’t want to, they can’t be bothered. As I’ve said, we’ve made it very easy for local residents and now we’re just asking them to use what we’ve put in place. It will be considered more socially responsible to recycle because the amount of cost, both in terms of the environment and the amount of landfill that we have in this country. I think it will become socially unacceptable not to recycle and to keep throwing things into the bin.

MACGILLIVRAY: This program is attracting tons of attention from local governments all across the UK and the continent. If this succeeds in north London, plenty of other villages, towns and cities all over Europe are set to impose similar schemes.

[MUSIC: “Streets of London” Cat Stevens]

CURWOOD: Our report on recycling incentives in north London was produced by Don MacGillivray and comes to us from Deutsche Welle Radio.

CURWOOD: Coming up, if there’s too much water on one hand, and not enough on the other, there ought to be a solution. And Mexico City thinks it has one. Keep listening to Living on Earth.



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