We’re 2 days away from next Council meeting and the Council’s website still hasn’t got the questions from the public and the members of last Council meeting held on 30th June. Here’s the link to the page where they should be, on 7th July I even wrote to the web communication team of the Council asking them to put them up and within a fraction of a second I had an automatic thank you reply, still no sign of them though.

In the meantime if you’re interested you can download a copy of the members’ questions from me, here, I post them here just to put them on the spot.

I had three questions, two on pools and I will write on them separately, one on waste. It may look like an unusual subject for a question at Council from me, the fact is that I was genuinely interested in how the Council deals with waste and also to know something about the recent Brown Bins initiative. Maybe my curiosity was solicited by the fact that quite a lot of those brown bins were assigned to people that have gardens and can therefore compost their own kitchen waste without the help of the Council.


What is the cost of incineration of waste produced annually in Lewisham that could be potentially turned into compost instead?

Can you also provide me with a detailed breakdown of this cost to be able to understand how much each household of Lewisham as well as commercial activities contribute to this cost?

I would also like to have the data broken down between houses with use of a garden and those without. Can you also provide some data about the pilot brown bins initiative? I’m interested in its cost and the volume collected and how it has been disposed. I would also like to know how many households with brown bins have a garden.


Lewisham is in the process of undertaking a waste compositional analysis of its waste and from the reports that have been received to date approximately 35% of domestic refuse could potentially be composted at home. This includes kitchen waste and garden waste.

In terms of tonnage, Lewisham incinerated 76,093.37 tonnes of domestic waste in 2007/8. Based on the waste compositional analysis 35% or 26,633 tonnes of this could be home composted. Lewisham pays a set price per tonne (gate fee) to the SELCHP incinerator and the cost of the gate fee for 35% of waste was £1,211,268 for 2007/8.

Lewisham Council has to report on the costs of waste collection and waste disposal. The cost to the Council for waste collection per household is £51.31 and the costs for waste disposal are calculated per tonne at £47.01.

However, it must be noted that this is not the cost that householders pay through their Council Tax. The Council Tax only contributes a small percentage of waste costs, the rest of which comes from Central Government through the Revenue Support Grant. The data for this is not broken down for households with gardens and those without.

Businesses on the other hand do pay for their waste collection and disposal services and this amount depends on the amount of waste that they produce a week.

The trial garden waste service took place from July to October 2007 across approximately 5,000 properties. The areas that the trial took place in were chosen as they had a high proportion of properties with gardens.

The costs for running the garden waste pilot were approximately £180,000. The green waste that was collected from the properties on the green waste pilot was taken to Country Style Group via Veolia Environmental Services. This was then composted using a windrow composting system and the resulting compost used in agriculture and landscaping.

During the four months of the trial 219,960kg of garden waste was collected. A participation rate was also conducted towards the end of the trial, which showed that 51% of households took part in the scheme

What I find most of interest is that the incinerator charges a flat fee, no matter if it is a ton of dry wood or a ton of soggy rotten potato peels. Obviously a ton of dry wood will produce energy that the incinerator then sells on as electricity, the ton of soggy rotten potato peels will instead require additional energy into the system to be burnt.

Soggy rotten potato peels make wonderful compost at no cost but another interesting point that one evinces from this answer is that it’s so dirty cheap for Lewisham Council to incinerate that economic reasons will never be a push towards composting. With those figures I pay for collection and disposal of all my rubbish with less than 3 weeks of Council tax a year. A bargain.

The Brown Bin trial came at a cost of £108 per household per year and that’s only for the collection, the total for collection and disposal of the same stuff plus all the other non recyclable rubbish comes at £98.31.

What we don’t know from this answer is if the Council disposes of the compostable at any cost or if it even makes some money out of it but even if that would be the case I think that it would be a rather small sum given the extremely low grade nature of the traded.

Last year the Council paid £1,211,268 for the incineration of the potentially compostable material. I think that there are about 110,000 households in Lewisham, that makes it about £11 per houshold. That’s about two days of my Council tax. But as they say it’s not even paid by the Council tax, it’s mostly out of grants that the Council receives so they have even less of an economic reason to shift.

It may be that unless the incinerator starts charging according to combustibility there won’t be any significant shift towards mass composting and we’ll keep on burning soggy rotten potato peels at huge environmental cost for another while.


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8 Responses to “Waste”

  1. Andrew Brown Says:

    Your conclusion might be right if the council were entirely economically rational, but there are political pressures on local authorities to increase the amount of recycling that is done ahead of incineration.

    That comes from members of the council (including Steve), the public, the Mayor of London (though what this mayor will do I can’t say) and central government (at the moment in the person of one Joan Ruddock MP).

    These pressures when lined up are considerable, but so are the costs of introducing new services (you need different vehicles to collect the different materials, extra staff to do the collecting, and space to store the vehicles, etc.). For example, when we went from picking up dry recycling every other week to weekly the additional cost was something in the region of half a million (from memory).

    Of course if the economics for waste were different then the incentives for change would be different too.

  2. Christine Melsom, Isitfair Says:

    In Japanese cities the rubbish is collected every day. The citizens
    are asked to separate out their rubbish each day ready for collection.
    Everything is clearly marked with a recycling symbol, to make sure
    the customer knows what is what. It cost them nothing for collection.
    How? Well the rubbish collection is put out to tender. Private
    companies bid for the pleasure of collecting your rubbish. They
    actually pay the Municipality. They then, in turn, made their profit
    from the recycling of plastics, glass, paper etc.
    Why is the same system not possible in this country? It would ease
    some of the burden on the council tax payer and help to keep the
    streets cleaner.
    Where there is muck there is money and the councils should, perhaps,
    be cashing in

  3. Max Says:

    Yes the economics would be very different if kitchen waste would pay more for incineration, one thing to research now would be how much does it affects the efficiency of SELHP and whether it would be justified to increase that cost and of how much.
    With these figures the Brown Bins scheme costs ten times as much as incinerating, it’s a £12m a year difference, I don’t know how many local authorities have that kind of space to manouvre.

  4. Max Says:

    Christine, we do separate recyclable materials here, the next challenge will have to be that of doing something with kitchen waste that’s better than incineration, as you can see it’s 26,633 tons of recyclable muck that the London Borough of Lewisham alone produces each year.

  5. Max Says:

    Sorry, that’s only the domestic waste.

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