Those of you who pay any attention to this blog will know that we talk about recycling a lot – which is why it’s so embarrassing that our home city right here in London has some of the country’s worst recycling rates.

Government data can reveal that, on average, in 2015 33.9 per cent of overall municipal waste collection was recycled in London – which stands at a full ten percentage points behind the national average of 43 per cent.

What that means is that other parts of the country are pulling extra weight to pick up our slack. As the UK’s capital city, we should be setting a precedent for the rest of the country to follow, not relying on them to boost our averages.

But what’s perhaps even more noteworthy than the overall London recycling rates, is the vast disparity in individual boroughs within the borders. Here’s a look.

Time to name and shame

These are the five best and worst performing London boroughs, from a ranking of all 32. These percentages reflect the overall proportion of municipal waste recycled over the 2015-2016 year.

Top five recycling boroughs in London

Bottom five recycling boroughs in London

Recycling per cent*
Recycling per cent*
5.    Ealing43%5.    Wandsworth21.1%
4.    Hillingdon44.1%4.    Barking & Dagenham18.9%
3.    Kingston45.8%3.    Lewisham18%
2.    Bromley46.3%2.    Westminster17.3%
1.    Bexley52%1.    Newham14.7%

*Source: Datastore London.

Perhaps the most obvious conclusion we can draw from this is not strictly which London boroughs are performing best, it’s the sheer amount of disparity between the best and worst performing. The 37.3 percentage point difference between Newham and Bexley is almost as large as the UK’s overall recycling rates in and of itself.

When taking into account that the overall recycling rates of the UK lie at 43 per cent at last count, these fairly dismal figures from the likes of Newham, Westminster, Lewisham and others pose important questions about how we improve recycling across the whole country. By law of averages, for every Newham that recycles just 14.7 per cent of waste, there’s another local administration in the country recycling 71.3.

Of course – it’s a lot more complicated than that, but if we could get the lowest performing boroughs in the country to raise their rates even in line with the national average, we’d be well on our way to matching the c.65 per cent national recycling rates of Germany.

What do the worst performing boroughs have in common?

It doesn’t take too much of a genius to spot a correlation in which boroughs perform well and which do not. The two biggest deciding factors seem to be geography and demographics. In short, affluent, suburban boroughs tend to have higher recycling rates than more impoverished inner London boroughs.

In fact, the difference is so profound, that of all 32 local authority areas, the top 12 best performing are all outer London boroughs. The highest performing inner London boroughs are Southwark, at 13th on the list, Greenwich at 15th and the City of London at a fairly embarrassing 20th. This is less a commentary on the types of politicians that are likely to run affluent, suburban councils and more a fairly simple conflict of priorities for those living within them.

The truth is, recycling is not exactly at the top of the priority list for people on low incomes with high rents, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet in one of the world’s most expensive cities. And when you combine that with the fact that a growing number of people in London’s densest boroughs live in multiple occupancy buildings, where waste clearance policies are dictated by what facilities are available, there’s plenty of understandable reasons why this is the case.

It’s no coincidence that London’s worst recycling borough, Newham, also has the highest child poverty rates of any single borough in the country. Closely followed by Barking and Dagenham at 7th and Lewisham at 11th – it’s clear where the correlation lies.

That being said, it’s still not acceptable. Furthermore, what are the businesses in these areas doing to improve recycling rates of their own and support their communities? If residents in these boroughs are struggling to prioritise recycling it just makes it twice as important for the local councillors and politicians to make it easy for people to recycle and educate their citizens on why it’s important.

Responsible waste collection services

If you want to bump up the rankings for your local borough, then you’ll want to make sure that you’re doing your best to improve your own recycling. Whether that’s your own municipal recycling rates, or the business waste clearance for your office or company – every little helps.

Have a look through our full range of responsible waste collection services to find out more about how we can help.