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The filthy East London borough with one of the worst recycling rates in the country


Tower Hamlets has some of the worst rates of recycling in the UK, new government figures show.

The filthy East London borough has seen the amount of waste recycled by its residents drop steadily over the last four years, making it the third-worst borough for recycling in London – according to figures published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

A report published by Tower Hamlets Council showed that the recycling rate per household was just 19.5 per between April and June this year – significantly lower than the UK average of 46.2 per cent.

Tower Hamlets steadily increased its rate of recycling since records began in 1998, and peaked at a rate of between 27 and 28 percent from 2011 to 2017.

But the figure has fallen each year since then and the borough is ahead of only Westminster and Newham for household recycling in London.

Defra figures also show that Tower Hamlets was the fourth-worst local authority for recycling in the whole of the UK in 2019/20.

Andrew Wood, an Independent Conservative member of Tower Hamlets Council, said that the decline in the borough’s recycling was due to a combination of factors, particularly general waste being dumped in recycling bins and a lack of access to recycling for residents.

He said: “I think there are a number of reasons. One is just operational problems with picking stuff up – so for example what will happen is if they don’t have enough staff they’ll send out one crew to pick up all of the rubbish, including recycling, and just dump it all into one.”

He added that the number of residents in Tower Hamlets in apartment buildings was contributing to the lack of recycling.

He said: “The problem is a lot of the apartments were built without the separation [of bins] inside, or then the related issue: you have a lack of education, people not realising, or just can’t be bothered so they just throw their rubbish into one bin.

“So what then happens if people throw their general waste into a recycling bin then the recycling teams won’t pick it up and you have these mounting piles of rubbish.

“Eventually somebody will turn up, and again it just gets thrown into the main bin.”

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Andrew Wood also added that the difficulties of Covid-19 had also affected recycling and rubbish collection.

Tower Hamlets has seen repeated issues with litter collection and fly-tipping in recent months, with litter often overflowing from bins or piling up on street corners – contributing to the low rate of recycling in the area.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: “Increasing the recycling rates in Tower Hamlets is a key priority for the council. Waste has a huge impact on our planet and we’re working hard with residents, landlords, and businesses across our borough to waste less and re-use and recycle more.

“Tower Hamlets is one of the most densely populated boroughs and our population continues to grow. This comes with challenges; it has been shown across England that recycling rates are lower from flats compared to kerbside properties and over 80 per cent of properties in Tower Hamlets are flats.

“While COVID-19 has presented additional challenges, including increasing the amount of waste being generated at home alongside disruptions to our waste collections due to factors such as staff absences due to illness and/or the requirement to self-isolate, we are constantly working to improve the quality and reliability of our waste and recycling service.”

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