A professor at the London School of Economics has vowed to be the first to defy Barnet Council's new compulsory recycling scheme.

Dr Kent Deng, who lives in Walmington Fold, Woodside Park, said its policy of imposing a fine of up to £1,000 on anyone who does not recycle their rubbish is a violation of people's right to do what they want with their private property.

Barnet's cabinet member for the environment Councillor Brian Coleman announced last week that a new pilot scheme - the first of its kind in the country - was being launched today (April1) in four wards.

Around 25,000 households in Totteridge, East Barnet, Oakleigh and Brunswick Park will be involved in the trial run over the coming six months, before the scheme is extended to the whole borough in October 2004.

Everyone in those wards will be compelled, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, to place recyclable goods, such as paper, glass, magazines and cans, in the black box the council provides.

And those who persistently refuse to participate will risk prosecution.

But Dr Deng said: "There is an enormous problem in the approach. I am not against recycling, but the way the council has proposed to penalise all the residents who are not recycling is illegal.

"There is no law to say you can't put your glass bottles in your rubbish. But it's very simple: the residents pay tax and the council provide a service. Residents would be fined very unfairly for a service they have already paid for. They own the rubbish, and if they keep it, they are penalised it's not right. If the council claims ownership of the rubbish, then the fine is just viable, but otherwise we should not pay. It should be done on a voluntary basis."

Dr Deng said he thought people should be given incentives to recycle, such as receiving a payment at shopping centres when bottles are returned.

But he claims it is illogical to make it compulsory to throw rubbish away in a particular way if that rubbish is private property.

He said: "If we own our rubbish then its up to us to co-operate.

We need to use incentives for people, not punishment."

Dr Deng used to live in New Zealand and said he welcomed schemes they used there to compel manufacturers to use less packaging and encourage children to recycle from an early age.

But Mr Coleman said that the council's lawyers were confident that the fines could be imposed.

"It is very simple, and I can assure you it is legal," he said. "All we want is for you to put something in the black box. We already have 60 per cent of people who return their black boxes in these wards, which is good, but we would like you to put in all your papers, glass bottles and textiles. That's what we would like, but anything will do.

"Obviously, we hope this will encourage people to pick it up, and we will only prosecute those who blatantly persist with no good reason. People are basically good at recycling in Barnet, but we need to give them the extra umph."

Barnet recycles 10.8 per cent of household waste - above the national average of 8.7 per cent. Recycling waste helps local authorities cut expensive bills for burying its rubbish in landfills.

Sue Duckworth, recycling and environment manager at Richmond upon Thames, which has an impressive 16.7 per cent recycling rate, welcomed Barnet's scheme.

Ms Duckworth said: "I think it's very brave of them. It has made people sit up and wake up to the issues, so hats off to Barnet." She said Richmond was not going to impose similar fines but would be watching how effectively it worked first.

For more information about compulsory recycling, call 020 8359 7400, visit www.barnet.gov.uk/recycling or call 020 8371 3670 to request a black box.