How a fifth of all recycling sent to one north London plant is just burnt, fuelling the capital’s dirty air crisis

24th October 2019 | Recycling

Two material recover facilities (MRFs) are run on behalf of the NLWA by Biffa and Bywaters, where all the plastic, paper, cardboard, glass aluminium and steel is sent from Hackney, Islington, Barnet, Camden, Haringey, Enfield and Waltham Forest to be sorted and sold on. But last year Bywaters, which was paid £1.7m to run a plant in Leyton, sent 20 per cent of that to be burnt at the NLWA’s incinerator in Edmonton – adding to the toxins in London’s already filthy air.

Biffa was paid £3.8m to run its Edmonton plant, and last year 11 per cent of what it processed was also burnt. They face no penalties for not recycling the recycling. On average nationally 5 per cent of recycling was burnt or put into landfill last year. The worst offenders were Barrow-in-Furness where 46 per cent was rejected, Newham where the figure was 33 per cent, South Holland at 26 Per cent and Boston at 21 per cent.


Biffa was fined nearly £600,000 by the Environment Agency last month for trying to export dirty nappies and dog mess in prime paper recycling in 2015, which had been sorted at the north London plant. Greenpeace’s investigative journalist team Unearthed and the Telegraph sent a reporter undercover to work for six weeks at the Western Riverside Waste Authority, which sorted waste for west London, and claims to have witnessed workers throwing unopened recycling bags into pile to be burnt – leading to accusations that the recycling wasn’t being properly sorted through. Here 13 per cent of the recycling is rejected as waste.

Bywaters and Biffa declined to comment but the NLWA claims its figures are as a result of contamination of the rubbish, and blamed people for putting stuff in their recycling that shouldn’t be there. “It is simply not the case that recyclable material sent to eh MRFs in north London is not being recycled,” said a spokesperson.

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