How green is your borough?: Matthew Brace looks at council moves to help the environment

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Indy Lifestyle Online
'Look through my dustbins? Well, go on then, as long as it's for a good cause,' said the woman at Number 43 when doorstepped by the Waste Workers of Worcester Park. 'I've got nothing to hide in there.' Valerie Marks, 66, had become the first of what Liberal Democrat-led Sutton Borough Council hopes will be many joining their new scheme to encourage householders to cut waste and increase the amount they recycle.

The Waste Workers scheme, launched today in the south London borough, is 'hands-on' environmentalism. Sutton, says it is the first of its kind in the UK.

Nearby Richmond-upon-Thames runs a project where residents monitor the weight of their rubbish to try to reduce it. The council even offers bathroom scales to households.

But Sutton's volunteers on the Waste Workers project rummage through dustbins to pick out recyclable items.

For Miss Marks, formerly deputy headmistress of Southfields Comprehensive School, her one bag of rubbish each week is easy to sift through.

'I don't mind doing it,' she said. 'I already separate glass, paper and cans and I have compost heaps in my garden.

'There's so much more packaging on everything today. If you buy a box of chocolates, there's as much wrapping as there are chocolates,' she said.

The scheme is spearheaded by volunteers, mostly Scouts and Guides, who will scour the streets for recyclable rubbish.

Doreen Sattaur, a neighbour of Miss Marks, is the co-ordinator, with Penny Spirling, the council's recycling officer.

Mrs Sattaur points out that 30 per cent of the contents of a household dustbin is compostable. 'We are trying to get people to dump less of their rubbish, so the council sends less to landfill sites.'

Further down the street Marion Byford, a secretary and mother of two, nodded at the mention of dustbin bags. 'With my lot we must get through at least two a week. I don't suppose I would mind looking through them, as long as I've got rubber gloves on. If you asked me to reduce it to one bag a week it'd be hard. The glass and paper always goes for re-cycling but there's a lot of plastic I'd like to recycle.

'We want people to make more use of the existing facilities and the council's kerbside collection service,' said Mrs Spirling.

The council will monitor the waste tonnages from households and for every 100-tonne reduction will donate pounds 750 to the volunteer groups taking part. Sutton boasts the title of London's Greenest Borough, awarded last year by the Countryside Commission.

However, it is not the only authority to promote environmental initatives. Londoners can recycle almost anything, from paint to Christmas trees.

On Saturday, Redbridge launched its Wellington boot recycling scheme, designed to save rubber. The old boots are destined for Dunlop's Liverpool factory for regranulation.

Harrow and Hillingdon send discarded footwear to eastern Germany where they are repaired and sent to Third World countries.

Christmas trees are collected, composted and the resulting mulch resold to the public.

Boroughs can also recycle electronic equipment, sump oil, organic waste, car batteries, cardboard and paint.

Hackney runs a Children's Scrap Project, where schoolchildren benefit from discarded books and art and crafts materials.

Lewisham operates a Faeces Intake Disposal Operation (FIDO), a mechanical 'poop-scoop' which sucks up dog dirt from the street.

In Hammersmith and Fulham, a highway removals service carts away anything from furniture to dead dogs lying in the gutter.

Benedict Southworth, recycling campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: 'Recycling has increased to around five or six per cent from two-and-a-half per cent in the early Eighties.

'But that is still extremely small considering the Government has set a target of 25 per cent of household waste by the year 2000.

(Photograph and table omitted)