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Bonkers Blog September 2011

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29 September (Part 2) - Bexley residents saved £3 million by recycling. True or False? - Click image for photo gallery (1 image)

£3m. saving last yearA fortnight ago I came to the conclusion that Bexley’s proud boast that it was top London recycler was a little dubious, the position depended on it collecting more compost than other London boroughs, much more, and then recycling it all. If residents composted more of it themselves Bexley would fall from its self-proclaimed pedestal. In percentage terms Bexley is not top of the list but the abnormally high tonnage works to its advantage.

That feature two weeks ago, heavily dependent as it was on arithmetic, was condemned by some readers as “boring”; well tough luck because I am going to do it again. When Bexley’s website doesn’t even manage to divide the total refuse collected into the component parts and get them to add up to 100% the claim to be saving £3 million pounds a year on recycling definitely needs to be examined. If you don’t like numbers, come back tomorrow when you can be assured of the usual end of the month frivolity.

To counter Bexley council’s inclination to say that what is written here is “often wrong” I will remind readers that all the figures I shall use come either from Bexley council or ‘green’ websites it recommends on its own recycling web pages.

Recycling makes a lot of sense. Bexley’s contractor, Serco, pays Bexley (or at least knocks the amount off the bill) £50 a tonne for paper and cardboard, cans and plastic bottles fetch £11.74 and glass £17.54. Landfill taxes are nearly £80 a tonne, £77.04 according to Bexley council, so recycling paper saves £127 a tonne compared to landfill and other items somewhat less. Compost is the weak link; Bexley pays £49.96 to have it taken away. That's not the cost from your address, it’s just from the depot to the composter; but it’s cheaper than landfill. By multiplying the tonnage of each recyclable commodity by the difference between the sale price and the landfill tax, Bexley comes to its near £3 million pound saving.

Bexley’s website guides readers to ‘Recycle for London’ for recycling information where it tells us that the average cost of getting rid of recyclable rubbish in London is £30 a tonne less than dumping ‘green bin’ rubbish. This is a world away from Bexley’s figures and if true would reduce Bexley’s £3 million saving to around £1·25 million. But Bexley is deliberately excluding gate to depot collection costs because that produces a bigger number, Recycle for London is more honest. Whatever the figure, is it a saving at all? Bexley council admits that refuse collections from all points of view is a fairly static business. The costs creep up but the sale price of the materials and the percentage recycled stays much the same. So whether the saving is £1 million or £3 million it was much the same the year before; so it's not new money going into the bank. It is a saving compared to having done nothing for the last decade but in the accountancy sense there is no saving at all. If costs and income remain almost exactly the same year on year there cannot possibly be a saving. Bexley’s advert is a fraud. Isolating a favourable part of its refuse disposal budget and comparing it to some notional scenario that could never exist is typical Bexley economics, not unlike Craske’s determination to prove that his parking accounts are going in the right direction.

The intriguing thing about the figures is the £49.96 cost of getting rid of waste food and garden material. It’s a very useful service but it’s not long since garden compost wasn’t collected at all. You had your own compost heap and dug it into the garden if you could and burned the bigger cuttings on November 5th. Compared to doing that the compost service is costing £50 a tonne plus collection charges. I shall have to stop my Bromley friend filling my brown bin. But that £976,000 (Bexley council figures) paid to the composter, let alone the collection cost, delivers a nice bonus. It is the reason Bexley is highly placed in the league table of London boroughs’ recycling rate. Second to Harrow for compost recycling percentages and eighth for the other things. And because of Bexley’s enormous tonnage of compost collected that is enough to swing Bexley into second or first place overall. Surely Bexley council wouldn’t spend a million pounds on a service solely to provide the ego trip of claiming to be top recycler? But definitely any claim to fame is down to the hugely expensive, but admittedly convenient, composting collections.


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