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Council to sweep up 1,000 tonnes of leaves this autumn

Published: 3 November 2022

Every autumn, Westminster Council expands its street cleaning service for several weeks to account for the significant quantity of leaves that are shed from the city’s 19,000 trees. The peak period of leaf fall normally occurs between 1 October and 30 November, triggered by a combination of high winds, rain, and frosts.

Westminster is hiring an additional 11 agency staff and using two extra collection vehicles during this period to support the street cleaning effort. The council’s street cleaning teams are working closely with gully cleaners to ensure leaves are not blocking drains and potentially causing flooding.

To minimise noise disruption for residents, the council is also trialling electric leaf blowers during the morning in residential areas.

The council expects to collect around 1,000 tonnes of leaves – roughly 200,000 bags - this autumn. That’s about the same weight as a cargo ship, three Boeing 747s, or 72 Big Ben bells.

Due to the presence of heavy metals from traffic pollution, leaves collected in Westminster are unsuitable for composting. Leaves are therefore sent to the South East London Combined Heat and Power (SELCHP) Energy Recovery facility where they are used to generate energy for local homes.

1,000 tonnes of leaves can generate around 530,000 kilo watt hours of electricity. That is enough energy to power an estimated 5 million hours of television or boil 5.3 million kettles.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Cabinet Member for City Management and Air Quality, said:

“While the autumn colours make Westminster very Instagram-able at this time of year, falling leaves can make pavements slippery and can also block drains which is a flood risk. That’s why the council is prioritising leaf sweeping and collecting to keep our streets and drains clear.

“Our team will collect millions of leaves from Westminster’s streets over the coming weeks, all of which will be used to generate electricity for local homes.”

Helder Branco, General Manager for Veolia Westminster said: 

"We have deployed extra operatives to ensure our streets and pavements are quickly cleared of leaf fall this winter. We're also trialling the latest technologies including electric leaf blowers to minimise the disturbance to residents and reduce carbon emissions, helping us to deliver ecological transformation. I would like to thank everyone for being #StreetKind and patient with us as we work during this busy period."