Shropshire Council was always determined to remove the 120 recycling bring banks from around the county. It had managed them badly and that allowed the council to make excuses for scrapping the service by saying the recyclables were contaminated and that businesses were disposing of their waste there. But of course, Shropshire Council only wanted to save money. The council’s waste contractor Veolia described the withdrawal as: “A great opportunity for residents to re-examine their recycling and to make full use of the kerbside service.” But we are more likely to see a lot more recyclables go into the black bin and incinerated.
It’s better news that Shropshire Council has abandoned plans to charge £40 a year to collect green waste. The council realised that it was going against the grain of emerging government policy – ministers are calling for free garden waste collections and weekly food waste collections.
Cabinet member Lezley Picton made the announcement on garden waste on BBC Radio Shropshire last week (begins at 2:19). She made it clear that the council was “forced into a change of heart” to get in line with government policy by dropping plans to charge around £40 a year for collecting green bins. The decision was agreed at an informal cabinet meeting, so it is not formally documented on the council website. Councillor Picton said it will leave a “£1.2 million hole” in Shropshire Council’s budget.
Michael Gove is determined to make weekly collection of food waste mandatory though Councillor Picton didn’t explain how that would be managed in Shropshire. Here in Ludlow, we had weekly food waste collections until the unitary authority closed the Ludlow Biodigester. That was a retrograde step. It’s time to upgrade that facility and bring it back into use. The council is also likely to be told to extend food waste collections to Oswestry and Bridgnorth.
Charges for green bin collection would have reduced recycling rates. In an era when recycling rates are scrutinised, Shropshire Council’s rate has already fallen. Government statistics show the proportion of waste recycled in Shropshire has dropped by 0.7%. That means that an extra 4,800 tonnes of waste was incinerated last year. Green and food waste makes up more than half of recyclables collected by the council. That means any reduction in collection rates will have a major impact on the overall recycling rate of 54.1%.
The move to abandon any thought of charges for green bin collection is welcome but Shropshire Council should come clean over the full environmental impact of its waste collection.
Green and food waste is composted in open aerobic bins at Four Ashes near Wolverhampton. That process vents methane. We have no data on how much methane is produced but we do know that is twelve times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2 and is also a useful fuel. The council and its contractor Veolia should be using anaerobic digestion where the methane is captured and used for power generation. We also have a lot of farms around here that have anaerobic digestion facilities. Some grow crops to feed the biodigester. It would be better to use domestic waste than taking up land needed for food and biodiversity.
CO2 is an issue alongside with methane. Veolia and the council do not publish statistics on carbon dioxide emissions from the Battlefield incinerator but the rule of thumb is that incinerators generate more CO2 than gas fired power stations. The incinerator generates electricity but none of the waste heat from the incinerator is used to heat nearby buildings. That’s a waste.
The need to tackle climate change has become an emergency. But Shropshire Council’s strategy is to tinker at the edges of a carbon and methane intensive waste and recycling regime. It needs to rethink that regime and set out a strategy for greener recycling. It also needs to do much more to ensure that households that don’t currently recycle do so in future.