Page last updated at 23:08 GMT, Tuesday, 10 July 2007 00:08 UK

Why won't East Enders go green?

By Jon Kelly
BBC News

Tower Hamlets
The deprived Tower Hamlets lies next to the prosperous City of London

The two councils with the worst recycling rates in England are both in the East End of London.

According to the most recent league table, Tower Hamlets - the bustling inner-city borough next to the City of London financial centre - recycled just 8.9% of its waste during the period 2005-6.

Coming in just behind is its next-door neighbour Newham - home of West Ham United FC and prospective host to much of the 2012 Olympics - which managed 10.1%.

Why is the area lagging so far behind the rest of the country when it comes to being environmentally friendly?

'Community spirit'

Rahman Ripon
The council are quite good at explaining what goes in the blue bag and what goes in the black bag
Rahman Ripon

Local residents are perplexed as to why they lag so far behind.

Rahman Ripon, 25, manager of the Cafe Naz Express on Brick Lane, the Tower Hamlets thoroughfare famed for its curry houses, says he has always found the local authority's advice very clear.

"I think environmental issues are important, so I always recycle," he says.

"The council are quite good at explaining what goes in the blue bag and what goes in the black bag.

"People round here live very busy lives. Maybe they've just got too much on."

Mary Delaney, 51, from Stratford in Newham, says she is surprised by the figures.

"It is quite a transient population, but there is a strong community spirit here," she says.

'Tough challenge'

Both councils admit that their record is not good enough.

However, they say it is more difficult to achieve recycling targets in socially deprived areas where many residents do not speak English.

It is also harder where residents live in flats rather than houses.

The easiest places to recycle in are middle-class suburbia or rural areas
Michael Warhurst
Friends of the Earth

A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets - which is London's poorest borough - said the local authority faced a "tough challenge" when it comes to recycling, because of the very high proportion of high-rise homes in the borough.

And a Newham spokeswoman said: "It's more difficult to recycle in an inner-city borough than it is in somewhere like Cambridgeshire or Shetland."

But both areas are making efforts to lift themselves off bottom spot on the recycling league.

Tower Hamlets has invested 3.5m over the last year in improving its service, and has doubled its recycling capacity.

Council staff have begun doorstepping householders to encourage them to be greener, and local mosques have been encouraged to spread the word at prayers.

Hit squad

Newham is introducing new lorries which can collect both waste for recycling and normal refuse at the same time.

Birmingham is getting there slowly, but could do better
Steve, Birmingham

And it is installing a machine at the waste depot which can pick out recyclable glass and metal from ordinary black bags.

The council aims to recycle 20% of all refuse by 2007-8.

In 2006 the government threatened to send in a recycling "hit squad" to Tower Hamlets.

But Michael Warhurst, Friends of the Earth's senior waste and resources campaigner, believes that it is Whitehall, not local councils, which needs to do more.

"The easiest places to recycle in are middle-class suburbia or rural areas," he says.

"Ultimately, it's the responsibility of central government to raise standards in inner city areas."

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