A Successful Recycling Campaign

Friends of Wandsworth Common Recycling project

Soon after the Friends launched in May 2018 we introduced regular litter picks, both because users wanted to pick and because we were keen to get recycling introduced on the Common – highlighted as a key priority of users at our launch. We asked (and still do) our wonderful ‘Litterati’ (Fig 1), (about 50 people, around 20 of whom are regular or frequent pickers) to collect litter in two bags, one for recyclables and one for general rubbish. To begin with, we just asked people to take the recycling bags home to put out with their home recycling. However, not only was this burdensome for all and impossible for some, including the several octogenarian pickers, we also realised it was simply disguising the problem.  So we began to store it where we keep our equipment. After a while we’d amassed a large number of full recycling sacks, providing enough ‘data’ to demonstrate, not only that over half of what was collected was recyclable (thus destined to be incinerated along with general rubbish unless practice changed), but also what a lot it soon amounted to! And this, of course, was just the tip of the iceberg compared to what the official litter picker collected.

Fig 1: Some of our wonderful litterati

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We continued even in the partial lockdowns, firstly by individuals collecting solo, with us just handing equipment out on a 1:1 basis, and then reintroducing small group picks following the ‘Rule of 6’ (Fig 2); this provided much needed activity and a community sense of helping at a difficult time, when littering increased by a massive amount with everyone crammed into greenspaces.

Fig 2: Rule of 6 litter pick

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We then took the opportunity of the 2020 national ‘Love Parks’ celebration, with help from Enable‘s (Wandsworth’s greenspaces management company) Events Team, to make a splash with a large public litter/recycling awareness event, inviting local councillors to participate. We piled the amassed bags of recyclables in front of the giant pink ‘Love Parks’ letters, which our volunteers sorted into different types – plastic bottles, cans, glass and paper (Fig 3). 

Fig 3: The evidence is revealed

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That got a result!! Enable, with support from the Council, introduced a pilot recycling scheme on Wandsworth Common and Battersea Park in July 2021. It wasn’t immediate or straightforward, as they had to create a new contract with a different company (the existing waste removal contract was non-negotiable to alteration), able to deal with a degree of contamination. (We’ve learned a lot about waste contracting and encouraging behavioural change over the last few years!). But the pilots were successful and recycling bins have now been introduced into the Borough’s other large green spaces.

A closely related issue we were concurrently tackling, also on the ‘wish list’ since our launch, was the reinstatement of drinking fountains/bottle fillers (removed decades ago), to reduce the use of single use plastic. There used to be seven, but now there are remnants of only two. We thought we would have to fund-raise for them ourselves, but the Council eventually agreed it was a sensible idea and installed two in 2021 (Fig 4). This was also not without a good deal of time and pressure, countering the proffered  barriers at every turn, even leading a Council worker and a senior Enable staff member to likely places to find a water supply!

Fig 4: Our new drinking fountains/bottle fillers

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In October 2021 we were delighted to receive a Wandsworth Council Civic Environmental Award for the work of the Friends on these and other tasks in support of the environment.

Efforts then turned this year to persuading Enable to get the official contracted litter pickers also to separate recyclables from general rubbish. Let’s face it, our weekly one hour and occasional weekend picks are nothing compared to the efforts of the amazing Michael – the Common’s sole paid litter picker – and his colleagues in the other greenspaces, who are out there every day. It took over a year, first introducing cargo bikes to make it easier to transport more sacks, then a trial of separating the litter, which was initially dismissed as too time-consuming to introduce. Despite this initial reluctance, however, and continuing pressure (“if our Litterati can do it”,…. “ in light of the climate change emergency…”etc.,) a comprehensive recycling scheme across all Wandsworth’s large greenspaces was finally announced by the Council in October 2022. 

Now all we need is to get people to do their bit! Glass in the ‘glass recycling’ bins and other things (exactly as per home recycling) in the ‘general dry recycling. What could be simpler? But we’re trying to get better signage to make it clearer. The bins are also not the most attractive (Fig 5) and we plan to get that changed in time, backed up by a new contract when the current ones are up for renewal.

Fig 5: Our temporary recycling bins

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The next ‘campaign’ we aim to tackle is single use coffee cups – an environmental nightmare as some are recyclable (but usually only in commercial units), some compostable (ditto) and many ‘neither of the above’ or don’t specify. If other greenspaces have any ideas, let’s join forces to work out how to save the hundreds of thousands chucked into our greenspaces daily.

So onwards and upwards……

Friends of Wandsworth Common, November 2022

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