Cardboard recycling rates across Shropshire have plummeted since kerbside collection was suspended by Shropshire Council in 2011. The amount collected is down 60%, plunging from 4,000 to 1,676 tonnes.
Previously cardboard was composted along with garden and food waste. This was never a good option – cardboard is a useful resource that can be reused – and the practice was ended when composting regulations changed.
But it has proved too expensive to reintroduce kerbside collection of cardboard waste under the Veolia contract.
In October 2007, Veolia Environmental Services was awarded a 27-year contract by the Shropshire Waste Partnership (now Shropshire Council). I have never heard a good reason why we need a waste contract that lasts more than a quarter of a century. Think of how everything we do has changed since 1980, including our recycling habits. We are already beginning to regret this contract, yet we are stuck with it until 2034.
Veolia are currently building a £60 million incinerator at Battlefield on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. The burner has been mired in controversy from the start. Shropshire Council turned down the planning application and then paid a cool £759,505 towards Veolia’s costs of appealing against that decision. Veolia won and has now joined the stampede of waste companies building incinerators.
Unfortunately, the UK is heading for an oversupply of incineration and other ‘residual waste’ treatment plants. We will soon have seven million tonnes more capacity than there is residual waste requiring treatment. This capacity will be brought into use at the point when waste volumes are falling and recycling is increasing. The UK is set to witness a scramble for the remaining residual waste, and incineration costs are bound to fall. Shropshire’s costs will of course remain fixed under the Veolia contract, but at least we will have cardboard to burn.
Cardboard is not the only troubling aspect of Shropshire Council’s waste contract. This year the council has parked £21 million in reserves as protection against rising future costs of the Veolia contract. It is money that could be usefully spent on services and facilities in these cash-strapped times, but it is being sucked into the ruinous waste contract.
There is one bit of good news on the cardboard recycling front. Local people, charities and social enterprises are teaming up to collect cardboard – just like they did in the 1970s. But for all these worthy efforts, ad hoc collections will never substitute for household collection of cardboard.
It might be more than two decades before we get proper cardboard recycling in Shropshire. Let’s face it. The county’s waste contract is trash!