In the 2022/23 period, Tower Hamlets found itself at the bottom of the pile when it comes to household recycling rates across the entire country. Recently released research from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs highlighted that Tower Hamlets had the lowest recycling rate among all 32 London boroughs and across England, standing at just 17.7 per cent.
The government’s definition of household waste extends beyond residential homes, encompassing street bins, street sweepings, drain emptying, parks and grounds waste, soil, and ‘compost-like output’. Analyzing every local authority nationwide, the department identified Tower Hamlets with the lowest rate, while Bromley claimed the top spot in London with a 48.7 per cent household recycling rate.
Beyond the capital, Liverpool City Council held the lowest household recycling rate at 17.9 per cent, while South Oxfordshire led the way with an impressive 61.6 per cent. The government emphasizes that recycling rates vary based on three crucial factors: population density, housing type, and the amount of organic or garden waste collected.
The department’s research elucidated, stating, “…in built-up areas with a higher proportion of flats, residents may find it difficult or be unwilling to store waste for recycling, and will not be producing garden waste for collection.” Tower Hamlets, with the fastest-growing population in the country, experienced a 22.1 per cent increase from 254,000 residents in 2011 to 310,300 residents in 2021. Furthermore, it holds the title of the most densely populated area in England, boasting 15,695 residents per square km.
When approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), a spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council addressed the challenges faced by the borough. They remarked, “Tower Hamlets is faced with a number of challenges that make it unique and difficult to compare to the rest of the country. We have the fastest-growing population and are the most densely populated place in England. Development is happening at a rapid pace.”
The spokesperson highlighted that 9,000 new homes were constructed between 2019 and 2022, but the borough struggled to keep up with the demand for recycling facilities and infrastructure. They added, “Also, 88% of our housing stock is flats and maisonettes. This is 32% higher than the London average and 64% higher than in England, meaning more of our residents have to share their recycling bins compared to the majority elsewhere who are responsible for their own bin.”
Detailing the challenges further, they noted, “The sheer numbers of people, development not keeping pace with recycling demands, ageing housing stock, and shared facilities make recycling much more difficult.” However, they emphasized, “Add to that the thousands of visitors and workers that come to our borough every day, and you can see it’s challenging. These points are for context and not to make excuses.”