Recycling in Lewisham


As a relatively new resident of Lewisham I feel that the borough’s recycling services are less then optimal. But I was still surprised to read that Lewisham’s recycling rates are among the worst in the country. Lewisham seems to only recycle a dismal 18% (2015/16 stats) of household waste, while neighbouring boroughs Southwark and Bromley perform much better with 35% and 46.3% respectively. Not great but much better.

Poking around Lewisham’s website I found the results of a 2015 consultation delivered to the Mayor and Cabinet in February 2016: Let’s Talk Rubbish. Then an interesting article in April 2016 on Lewisham’s plans to role out a new collection system.

From either, I deduct that Lewisham has rolled out the garden waste program which of course comes at an additional cost to householders. But has anyone heard about the proposed plan to separate paper from recycling (81.44% approval) or the introduction of food waste collection (66.59%approval)?

I’m writing to the Council on the topic but did wander if any gurus online had inside information.


It is arguable that incineration, which Lewisham does a lot of, is not so desirable in inner London but then neither is landfill. These aspects skew the stats:

I think it would be better for there to be kerbside food waste collection than for it to be incinerated. Sutton are in the process of building an incinerator too and the waste gases and particulates could head our way:


From the article @Brett posted:

That’s a staggering low rate of landfill from Lewisham.

We can thank the Combined Heat and Power Plant is in South Bermondsey for that, I think:

Notable that SELCHP also recycles a lot of its waste - the solid stuff that builds up at the bottom of the incinerator is turned into building materials, and metals are recovered.

But whether this incinerator is ultimately good for London waste processing depends on the quality of their exhaust filtering.

Here’s the 2014 annual performance report from SELCHP, from a Freedom of Information request:

All the emissions are within limits - or, at least, the ones they have to record:

But there have been one or two incidents, which I imagine are quite worrying for residents around the plant:


I remember getting a leaflet through the door about a year ago with how the new waste disposal company for LC will instantly put a recycling truck’s load into landfill if a black bag is seen in there. I’m yet to see any evidence that the colour of a bin bag makes any difference to how it’s recycled.


Hi All

New waste collections arrangements are being arranged as I write.
The contract will come to renewal and from my memory we can expect the new waste disposal to be rolled out before the summer.

Food waste was something that will be included in the new contract.

And as I talk of the contracts the service is outsourced.

Bin collection changes

The issue with black bags is that they hide what’s inside. Contamination of recyclables with other waste is a serious problem.


Thanks @Brett and @ChrisBeach for the feedback. It does put the issue under a slightly different light once realised that very little waste in Lewisham is diverted to landfill. For this LB should be commended.

Thogh Dioxins aside, I would still like to see the %age of recycling in the LB increase significantly. While diversion from landfill is a major objective, we should also seek to reuse resource wherever possible. While incineration firms and councils may claim sustainability, trash at the end of the day is not renewable. Burning these resources destroys these resources for good. And producing new goods from virgin, finite resources requires energy and lots of it.

One could also argue that the reliance on incineration inhibits recycling. It is the easy option for LAs and was perhaps an unsurprising one when SELCHP was commissioned in 1991 as there wasn’t (I recall) any significant curbside recycling program in London.

So while I applaud Lewisham (and Greenwich and Southwark) for their efforts in diverting waste from landfill, I would encourage them to continue improving their recycling efforts. The two other partners in SELCHP have - both Greenwich and Southwark recycle c. 35% - so why can’t Lewisham?

That is not to say that incineration has its place… it does. But after reading the above material I cannot understand why the mix can’t be biased to recycling.

Thanks so much for that update. Great to hear that there is activity behind the scenes. Do you know if LB has a recycling target?

So happy that we will have food waste collection. I became so used to this in Southwark that it pains me every time I throw peelings, or egg shells, or meat fat in the general waste. This summer I’ll have a wormery but that won’t take everything.


SELCHP looks a great example of local authority collaboration.

Why not in other services?


These contracts usually run for a few years, and that is the reason why no changes were done in the last couple of years.

LB has to increase its recycling rates ( even though landfield is tiny). Otherwise we could face fines.

What is also masked is that LB is also encouraging people to compost and the figures for that type of recycling will not be counted as they are difficult to quantify.

Info regarding new waste collections is due to be published on Friday.


I think almost all the workshops were available only during week days so not accessible to working people. The order form for the compost bin hasn’t been working for a while. But I think the £10 bins had to be collected. Again not accessible to people without private transport.

I like that LB is focussing on composting, but I think they can do a much better job of it. Neighbouring Southwark seem to offer a much more comprehensive program.

I would really hope LB would want to raise recycling rates as it is the more sustainable option. Not because of possible fines. LB’s partners in the SELCHP have recycling rates almost twice that of LB. What is stopping Lewisham from achieving the same rather than rely on the incineration option.

Strangely very excited about this. Thanks for the update again.


Looking forward to this. Thanks for the infornation Maja.


Speaking personally, I’d say at least 3/4 by volume of our rubbish is in the green bin. There’s no reason why we’d be exceptional. So why is the recycling rate so low?

  • Are people just putting everything in the grey bin? Is that because of ignorance, laziness or lack of civic pride in doing what’s right for us all?
  • Do people put things in the grey bin that could actually go into the green bin if they just rinse them out a bit to clean them up?
  • Are people putting the wrong things into the green bin, thereby contaminating all its contents and potentially contaminating the whole bin lorry, offsetting all the good of the recycling attempt?
  • Is there some reason why recycling is more difficult in certain properties? (Eg, lack of space for bins, council flat estates’ provision of facilities.)

Not prejudging the answers or passing judgment on anyone who doesn’t recycle - just trying to understand why the recycle rate is so low.


The recycleforlewisham blog (see above) addresses this. I think plainly stated the low rate of recycling may be linked to high levels of social housing in Lewisham. Many estates have no recycling facilities.


What percentage of waste is food or garden waste. Remembering of course garden waste is a recent introduction and not a standard service?


Will the food recycling plans include all food waste to be put in a green bucket or just uncooked things like potato peelings? Are the neighbourhood foxes looking forward to silver service a la food waste caddies?


I attended a composting workshop with the wonderfully-named Ms Binns a couple of years ago. it’s true that they’re all during working hours (I was lucky to be able to go), but the workshop was great, very helpful, and we’ve been composting ever since. I think I know that institutional composting is thought to be better for managing food waste, reducing CO2 and and methane, etc. but I think personal composting is more empowering, and you can use your own compost in your garden, bringing you, as an urban-dweller, closer to the circle of life…anyway, we like it.

For anyone who didn’t know this, if food waste goes into landfill it rots and emits a frightening amount of methane, which is a frightening greenhouse gas: it’s an unseen, under-valued source of pollution. A pity also is that the soil of London can really use the nutrients that result from good composting, a shame to send it all up in smoke!


Details published:

Black bins going fortnightly. Food waste bins added (yay, now I’ll have 4 bins in my tiny front area). No changes to regular recycling.

Worried about fortnightly black bins with kids still in nappies. The summer is going to smell disgusting.


Hooray! About bloody time! Well done Lewisham. Now how to deal with the foxes!


Agreed. If the food waste bins can take all the scraps we can’t compost (or sum total if no composter) then there should be plenty of space for nappies. It could get smelly though, let’s see.

Don’t have the link but recall that food waste bins are meant to be fox proof.

Would like to know what the plan is for blocks of flats as these must make up a significant proportion of overall housing.


Indeed. It’s a mistake for Lewisham to do this. Too many bins of different kinds, and fortnightly is just not enough - and if you happen to be away for collection day, it may be four weeks … bad decision. I was living in Camden about 20 years ago and the bins were emptied twice a week.

Why is it that a ‘rich country’ has declining public services?

Expect the public waste bins to be busier.