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Merton campaigner proves recycling is being thrown in Beddington Incinerator

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Most of the recycling from public bins across Merton is being ‘set alight’ at the Beddington Incinerator.

When community campaigner Mark Gale was convinced that recycling in town centre bins was not being dealt with properly, he set about finding out more.

He first suspected something was up when he noticed that the coloured bin bags in two-sided bins were the same – green for non-recyclable waste instead of blue for recycling.

To check his theory Mark initially followed one of the caged rubbish vans collecting general waste for incineration and says he saw all bags going in the back together.

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These are the tracking devices used during the investigation

Next he spent £80 buying four trackers to try and prove what he suspected.

He carried out the experiment on April 16 with Pippa Maslin from the Merton Green Party. The pair put the trackers in matchboxes so they could not be detected even if the bags were opened.

They placed four separate trackers in bins in Wimbledon and Morden, one recycling and one landfill in each town centre.

All four trackers moved to the Beddington Lane incinerator that evening and the signal was lost overnight – proof that they were incinerated, says Mark, as there was plenty of battery life left on them and they did not move from the site.

There are more than 300 dual bins in Merton’s town centres of Wimbledon, Mitcham, Morden, Raynes Park and Colliers Wood.

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This Is Local London: Pippa MaslinPippa Maslin

Merton Council is part of the South London Waste Partnership which also includes Kingston, Sutton and Croydon councils – Mark is also concerned that the same could be happening in these boroughs.

Merton Council and the contractor, Veolia, have now both admitted that up to 80 per cent of recycling collected in public bins is burnt at the Beddington Lane energy recovery facility (ERF) due to it being contaminated.

The recycling is supposed to be taken to other centres in England to be sorted and recycled.

Mark, who previously set up Merton TV which records all council meetings in 2018, said: “When the bins in Morden had the same on both sides it was clear there was an issue. At first we thought it was one road sweeper who was making a mistake with liners but then we noticed the same thing happening in Wimbledon and Mitcham.

We watched the process over weeks and realised it was deliberate, we spoke to staff who suggested what we had guessed, both blue and green bags were going to the incinerator.

“It didn’t matter what colour bag was used all of it was going to be set alight in Beddington.”

Mark recently moved to Wales from Ravensbury with his wife and seven-year-old child, but is regularly back in Merton for family reasons and says he remains committed to keeping an eye on the council.

Like Mark, Pippa became worried about the issue in the town centre when she spotted that some of the double-sided bins in Morden town centre had the same colour bags in both bins.

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She also has general concerns about SLWP’s use of incineration and thinks that councils should move towards a circular economy and not be “locked into a waste management system that will involve incineration for at least the next couple of decades”.

She said: “It seemed that the waste in the recycling bin was not being recycled but, rather, being sent to the incinerator. Just this past week, I noticed that four of the twin bins that I passed had bags of the same colour.

“I have heard that the council and Veolia have recently justified this on the grounds that general waste, usually food, often contaminates the contents of the recycling bins, but this is markedly unambitious.”

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She thinks a solution to this could be installing public bins that allow people to separate their food waste to reduce the amount of contamination in recycling bins.

“I think that those who are not already aware would be shocked to learn that what they put into the public recycling bins is not actually recycled,” added Pippa.

Merton Council insists that this problem is only with public bins not household recycling, where it claims rates have increased from 39 to 42 per cent.

Natasha Irons, Merton Council’s cabinet member for environment and green spaces, said: “While recycling collected from on-street bins is less than five per cent of the overall recycling we collect, I know our community will be shocked to learn that so much of it has to end up being sent to the energy from waste facility instead of being recycled.

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It doesn’t take much to contaminate a bag – throwing in liquid, food waste or the wrong materials will mean it is rejected at the processing centre for recycling, as anything over 5 per cent contamination means the whole collection is rejected.”

While a spokesperson from Veolia said that it is looking to reduce contamination where possible.

They added: “We can confirm to residents that materials that are sorted correctly for recycling will always be recycled. Unfortunately, ‘on the go’ recycling from street litter bins is often so heavily contaminated that it cannot be accepted by our sorting facilities, in which case it is diverted for energy recovery.”

But Mark simply doesn’t think the council is doing enough to ensure that less recycling is incinerated.

He added: “Why claim it is recycling when it is not? I think it is misleading and I wanted to highlight that.”

A video of the investigation can be found here

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