Hackney residents are in with a shot of winning £100 worth of vouchers for Marks & Spencer and other outlets just by putting their tin cans, copies of Hackney Today and other recyclables into the green bags they put outside their homes on bin day.
The rewards scheme was introduced by the council this week, but doubts remain over the success of such incentives.
Between 2002 and 2010, the amount of materials being recycled in the borough rose from one per cent to 25 per cent per year, but the rate has flatlined ever since.
The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) has set Hackney an ambitious recycling target of 50 per cent by 2020.
To meet the goal, the council is now running a “significant project” to drive up rates and has secured a £637,000 grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to implement the Hackney Recycling Rewards scheme for the next three years.
Specialist contractor Local Green Points has been chosen to run the programme, and its chief executive Graham Simmonds said: “By recycling more, Hackney residents can win popular vouchers, such as for M&S and the local Picturehouse cinema, as well as donations for much-needed community projects, so this really is a win-win for households and the wider community.”
Households can sign up for free to receive a membership card which entitles them to discounts at local shops and restaurants.
Members can then earn points, with the council measuring the amount of recycling and waste produced by each of the borough’s 21 wards. When a ward recycles more and wastes less, all its members will receive points.
Those joining up can also vote for which charities they want to see benefit most from the scheme. The five charities involved are Sharp End, Headway East London, St Mary’s Secret Garden, Hackney Migrant Centre and Immediate Theatre.
Cllr Feryal Demirci, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and parks, said: “We are keen to reward residents for their hard work and encourage an increase in recycling and help reduce waste. Not only will this help make Hackney greener, but it will save money, as it costs the council more to dispose of rubbish than it does to recycle it.
“We need to spend less money on disposing of rubbish so we can continue to pay for other important services like cleaning streets and maintaining parks.”
Concerns remain over the effectiveness of incentives programmes like this, however.
DCLG admits on its own website that it is “aware that some rewards schemes have not led to significant change” but says its fund has “set criteria to ensure that bids are well thought through and fully expected to lead to recycling improvements”.
A DCLG spokesman said it was satisfied that Hackney Council’s proposal would have a positive impact on recycling in the borough.
A report on recycling by the London Assembly found that although rewards work twice as well as punishments, weight-based schemes have led to allegations that “individuals may have deliberately generated more waste to boost their points and maximise their rewards”.
In Hackney, households will be able to earn points by self-reporting their individual recycling to the council every week.
Commenting on concerns that this system is therefore susceptible to dishonesty, a spokesman for Hackney Council said: “Residents are sent a list of different materials each week, and are asked to tick which ones they have recycled. There is an element of trust, but we hope that the lists will remind residents about the items that people don’t always remember to recycle.
“Self-reporting is only one of several ways that points are earned. The largest proportion of points are earned from the actual tonnage of recycling and rubbish in each ward.”
Research by consultancy firm Eunomia found that reward schemes only lead to a short-term increase in recycling rates and show little evidence of value for money over a longer period. Its report pointed instead to the success of alternatives such as the deposit refund systems seen in continental Europe.
These involve customers paying a deposit when they buy recyclable products like bottles or drinks cartons, but when they recycle the containers, they get their deposit back.
Despite the proven success of alternative options, Friends of the Earth’s Henry Chown welcomed Hackney Council’s announcement.
He said: “London really needs to up its game on recycling, and schemes such as this can help. But it is not enough on its own.
“Hackney must also work to make it easier for people to recycle their waste, especially for the 80 per cent of Hackney residents who live in flats, where recycling can be more difficult.
“People in more affluent areas tend to live in houses with wheelie bins and on-street recycling, making it much easier to recycle. It’s important the scheme doesn’t just reward residents who happen to live in more affluent wards.”
Cllr Demirci confirmed that more prizes will be available to residents living in flats or on estates as an “extra incentive”.
Hackney Green Party’s Samir Jeraj acknowledged the “mixed results” of similar schemes, but did not want to “condemn” the council’s initiative from the get-go.
He said: “The council should provide reassurances that it has learnt lessons from other rewards schemes, and that it is still focused on improving recycling facilities and doing more waste reduction work throughout the borough.”
Cllr Demirci added: “Hackney has one of the most comprehensive recycling services in London. We are continually working to make it as easy as possible to recycle and now have over 4,000 communal recycling bins and 1,500 communal food waste bins, as well as weekly kerbside collections.
“Most estates and blocks were built before recycling services existed, with no space for separating and storing recycling. We have started a large project to address this, which includes building new bin stores, closing waste chutes, and targeted communications. We have also added more recycling banks on streets to make it easier for people to recycle clothing and electronic items.”
Every household in Hackney will receive a letter inviting them to join the rewards scheme. For more information or to sign up now, visit hackney.gov.uk/recycling-rewards