Camden recycling ‘indiscriminately’ contaminated as lorry issues persist

A broken down bin lorry in Camden getting towed away

A broken down bin lorry in Camden getting towed away - Credit: Saskia Rowlands

Waste collectors in Camden are being instructed to "contaminate good recycling" due to ongoing issues with split-back lorries. 

The lorries were introduced as part of a new contract in 2017 between Camden Council and Veolia, which manages the borough's waste collection on behalf of the council. 

Issues with the lorries have been reported previously, as Veolia workers spoke of how often they would break down and of the inadequate size of the recycling compartment. 

The back of each lorry is split into a section for general waste bags and food waste bags, and a section for mixed recycling.

Refuse collectors have told the Ham&High that when the general compartment stops working they are told to throw everything into the clean recycling section, and so contaminating the whole lot. 

One Veolia worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “If they [the managers] haven’t got a vehicle or if one of the vehicles breaks down, they just say “throw it all in one [recycling and food waste]".

“They’re telling loaders to contaminate good recycling.” 

What often happens, they say, is that the food waste is emptied into the green recycling bins, meaning "you’ve got all this food waste dripping down the side of their green bins”. 

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They described the current situation as “inadequate”, and said that “recycling, refuse and food waste should all be picked up in single-bodied vehicles", adding: "They should all be separate vehicles.” 

Camden residents also say they have witnessed this contamination taking place, and are left shocked by what they see. 

Jo Konrad of Wedderbern Road, and another resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, said they had separately watched as their food waste was mixed with recycling, before being thrown together into the back of the lorry.  

Jo had heard stories of similar incidents and said: “It’s only when you see it yourself, and I literally watched them this date in December, emptying food into the recycling bins and contaminating the whole thing. 

“I mean there’s something very wrong.” 

The other resident said: “I can’t believe they’re trained incorrectly, but I don’t know what is going on. You’re left more than disappointed.” 

A broken down bin lorry in Camden getting towed away

A broken down bin lorry in Camden getting towed away - Credit: Saskia Rowlands

Jo said contaminating recycling undermines the efforts of young people who are going to be most impacted by climate change. 

“They’re all fanatical about climate change, and quite rightly so," she said. "It’s their future we’re talking about.” 

She said collectors are “undermining an entire generation who believe that small acts matter – and one of the things the kids can do is recycling”. 

The Veolia worker echoed this frustration, saying: “They may as well send letters to all residents in Camden to say don’t waste anymore of your time and effort recycling, and instead just throw it all in your black bins (general rubbish) and it’ll all get picked up as refuse because in effect this what they're doing, just unofficially.” 

They said it is not just occurring in certain areas, but it is “all over the borough".

"It’s going on in Hampstead right down across the Camden side, right down to the south side in Rosebery Avenue area,” they said. 

In a joint statement, Camden Council and Veolia said: “Our collection crews understand the importance of separating waste and recycling and are fully trained to prevent the contamination of dry recycling by food waste. 

"The innovative split-back design of our vehicles allows for both recycling materials and non-recyclable rubbish to be collected at the same time. It improves the efficiency of our pick-ups and reduces the environmental impact as only one vehicle is required to make the journey rather than two. 

"Our current fleet of collection vehicles were introduced in 2017, are serviced every six weeks and it is very rare for the food side of the vehicle to stop working.  

“However, should this be the case, our crews know to immediately inform their manager and to carry on collecting dry recycling only. Management will then arrange for another vehicle to collect the food waste separately on the same day or by the next morning. This process is in place to ensure that different types of waste are never mixed together." 

In 2020-2021, 28.6% of household waste was recycled in Camden, up from 25.9% in 2019-2020, ranking it in 281 out of all local authorities nationally.  

Number one was St Albans, which recycled 64.2% of household waste.