Recycling and food waste will continue to be collected weekly under the plans.
Photograph: Hackney Council

Town Hall plans to have non-recyclable rubbish collected fortnightly from street-level properties while continuing to collect recycling and food waste weekly have been formally challenged by Hackney Conservatives.

The implementation of the plans, which are aimed at boosting recycling rates while drawing down on the amount of waste, and accomppanying levies, sent to the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) by the council, will now be paused for councillors to scrutinise the scheme.

Cllr Simche Steinberger (Con, Springfield) branded the plans “codswallop” in an interview with the Citizen, accusing the council of being driven purely by the aim to save money while voicing his fears of an accompanying rise in vermin and dirt in the borough as a result of the plans.

The Springfield councillor also accused the council of “unfairly singling out” the borough’s Charedi Jewish community in the report’s analysis of a consultation with residents on the scheme.

The consultation received the council’s largest response ever with 10,000 respondents, of whom 8,440 believed it important or very important that Hackney recycles more, with 88 per cent of the total believing the council should encourage residents to do so.

A majority of 52 per cent of those asked (4,766) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposal to collect non-recyclable waste fortnightly, with 55 per cent believing it would have a negative impact on their household. Thirty-nine per cent of respondents agreed with the proposals.

Consultees were broken down by religion as well as a number of other factors, with the report noting that Jewish and Charedi Jewish respondents were one group less likely to recycle food and least in favour of the proposed changes, along with people in larger households, people who live in N16, disabled people, and people aged between 16-24.

Cllr Steinberger said: “They single out the Jewish people, which is interesting. It’s quite obvious this is politically motivated. There’s something very dodgy here. They’re careful with how they write things with some communities, but it seems like our community there’s something different for them. I don’t understand it.

“We believe it’s not going to increase recycling. It’s a load of codswallop. The last thing we want to see, as Hackney is quite a clean borough, is for there to be more dirt, as rubbish will be around for longer.

“This means if we didn’t have enough foxes running around everywhere, we’ll have them even more, and the same applies to rats, mice, any animal that likes rubbish.

“Whilst I appreciate animals have to eat, we don’t want them hanging out in dustbins and houses, we’d rather they hang out elsewhere.”

The council have advised that “generally” it is food waste that rots or smells, which would continue to be collected weekly, with residents advised to use their blue lockable caddy to prevent rubbish from smelling or attracting vermin.

In response to fears over an increase in animals or overflowing bins as a result of the proposals, the council will be introducing a 180-litre wheeled bin for non-recyclable waste, with large households able to apply for extra bin capacity.

Consultation responses to the council’s scheme were 6.21 per cent from Charedi Jewish or Jewish religious groups, which broadly aligns with their 6.3 per cent of the makeup of the borough’s population.

The section of the report on responses broken down by religion states that Charedi Jewish people were the religious group least in support of the proposals, with 94 per cent disagreeing with the plans, followed by Muslim people, who were in 62 per cent disagreement.

Officers go on to add that the Town Hall has recruited local Charedi Jewish residents to “engage directly” with their neighbours in the community, with the aim of “overcoming […] the barriers to food waste recycling participation.”

The report goes on to state: “Previous engagement work with Jewish and Charedi Jewish households has not resulted in significant behaviour change.

“The council uses local Jewish newspapers to advertise and promote services, as well as send direct mail on an annual basis to increase participation in recycling services during Passover.

“Even with this engagement work there has been a lack of a step change from Charedi Jewish and Jewish households to increase recycling participation.

“In reaching an understanding as to whether there may be a religious reason for Jewish and Charedi Jewish households not to recycle, research with the community has been undertaken. This research has not found any religious reason as to why the community wouldn’t separate out their waste for recycling.”

The report claims that 70 per cent of Jewish and Charedi Jewish respondents in households of more than five people put food in with non-recyclable rubbish, compared to 38 per cent of people in comparable non-Jewish households.

Cllr Steinberger added: “What has it got to do with ethnicity? Where are they trying to get to? Why do they bring this up at all about particular groups? What does it matter who responded and what and why? Being Jewish myself I’m really angry that they would bring ethnicity into this.

“I’m disappointed as a Conservative councillor that they’re talking about ethnicity. While they may have those details, why is it part of the result? What are they trying to do here? It’s not relevant who the people were who said what.

“They’ve bluffed this consultation. They wanted to change it from weekly to fortnightly because they want to save money. It’s nothing to do with recycling. It’s an excuse, and I don’t believe it’s going to happen at all.

“I believe the council has very little clue about the community. For instance, in Hackney there is a large Polish community, and there’s nothing in the report about them. If not, why not? The same applies to the Turkish community.”

Waste chief Cllr Jon Burke (Lab, Woodberry Down) has slammed the Conservatives’ reasons for the call-in as “spurious”, while adding that he looked forward to using the “healthy, democratic” process a call-in of this kind represents to “showcase the extensive amount of detailed work and planning that the waste service has put into the delivery of a fortnightly black bag waste service for street properties alongside unlimited weekly food and dry recycling collections”.

On Cllr Steinberger’s concerns around how ethnicity is handled in the report, Cllr Burke added: “If we hadn’t mentioned ethnicity, Cllr Steinberger would have been the first to say, ‘You’ve not considered the needs of different communities’. In considering the needs of different communities, we’ve now overconsidered ethnicity from Cllr Steinberger’s perspective, which I find totally bizarre.

“This has been an effort on the part of my officers to identify the diverse range of needs and stark differences of family sizes and households in the borough to create a policy that can meet everybody’s needs. It was incumbent on us to consider what the needs of the wide variety of communities in our borough might be. I think that’s totally reasonable.

“I’m confident my officers have done an excellent and hugely comprehensive piece of work, and if there had been any issues with it, I would have been the first to address them.”

The waste chief went on to criticise Hackney’s five Conservative councillors with “hostility to changes that are manifestly in the interests of the environment and the future of the borough’s residents”.

A Hackney Council spokesperson said: “The decision to introduce fortnightly waste collections while keeping weekly recycling collections is aimed at boosting recycling rates.

“However, in the consultation report, we highlighted the concerns of a number of groups that were not in support of the proposals to allow us to consider these and identify ways to mitigate the impact of the proposals. For example, we are proposing to give larger families or families with babies a bigger bin and carry out further engagement work with those groups.

“The council’s scrutiny panel will meet to discuss the call-in in the coming weeks. It will decide whether to uphold the decision or refer it back to cabinet or full council.”

Support us

The coronavirus outbreak meant that the Hackney Citizen was unable to print a monthly newspaper for three months.

We're grateful that we have since been able to resume printing. This would not have been possible without the generosity of our readers, whose donations kept the paper from disappearing completely at a distressing time for residents.

A huge thank you to everyone who gave their time and money to support us through the lockdown, and to those who continue to do so as we slowly recover from the dramatic fall in advertising revenues, on top of the existing challenges threatening the future of local journalism.

A one-off donation or a regular contribution from anyone who can afford it will help our small team keep the newspaper in print and the website running in the coming months and years.

Find out how you can donate.

Thank you for your support, and stay safe.

The Hackney Citizen team