Shropshire Council is in the top fifty councils in England for recycling rates. It recycled 54.6 per cent of its waste in 2019/20 but that rate has not improved over the last five years. Though it’s good news we are among the high recyclers, there is never room for complacency when it comes to environmental matters. The council has become complacent.
South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse districts, both rural areas, recycle 63 to 64 per cent of their waste. Why can’t we do the same? Or better still, do better.
The way recycling operates in Shropshire can and must be improved. Shropshire Council should set a target of being in the top ten of councils for recycling by 2026. We should aim for a minimum of two-thirds of our waste being recycled within five years.
The complacency over recycling at Shropshire Council means it has no ambitions to ramp up recycling and to reduce its reliance over incineration. Here are five steps we can take to recycling heaven:
- Set up Good Recycling Neighbourhoods, with recycling champions and an award scheme.
- Replace lidless tubs for glass, plastic and metals with wheelie bins.
- More effective bags to prevent card and paper getting wet.
- Bring back bring banks.
- Move recycling into a new environment portfolio in the council cabinet.
There are, of course, many more steps. I am particularly keen on introducing Good Recycling Neighbourhoods because they will empower households and communities to improve their recycling performance and help push up county and national recycling rates.
Recycling in Shropshire
Landfill of domestic waste in Shropshire has been reduced from 13% of waste to 2% since 2014/15. Recycling rates increased as did incineration but these have now plateaued.
Incinerators such as those at Battlefield and Four Ashes are not climate friendly. Along with material that cannot be recycled, they burn resources that we could recycle. They also emit dust particulates, organic carbon, hydrogen chloride, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. They also pump out carbon dioxide, with one report suggesting the UK’s 42 incinerators released a combined total of nearly 11 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017. Each tonne of plastic incinerated releases around 1.43 tonnes of CO2, much of that from oil, which is of course a fossil fuel. There is no carbon capture at the incinerators used by Shropshire Council and burning plastic threatens net zero targets.
Incineration reduces methane production from landfill. It also produces electricity, up to 8MW a year. But our aim should be to reduce incineration and increase recycling.
Our household collection system is not efficient. Operators pick up tubs, pour the contents into a wheelie bin and load the bin into the recycling truck. We should cut out a stage and give households a wheelie bin for dry recyclables, metals and plastic as other councils do. That will also prevent plastic recyclables being blown out of tubs. Unbelievably, Shropshire Council claims that this will increase waste and recycling collection costs by £600,000 a year. There must be something very wrong with the council’s contract with Veolia if simplifying the collection system leads to an annual increase in costs after the initial outlay.
Shropshire Council should bring back bring banks, which were popular before they were withdrawn in 2017, especially with people with limited storage space. Suggesting people drive long distances to household recycling centres, such as the centre at Craven Arms, is hardly climate friendly.
In 2019/20, Shropshire Council collected 15,151 tonnes of mixed glass, metal and plastic but some loads proved to be contaminated. They were rejected at the Mechanical Recovery Facility at Four Ashes and sent to the incinerator next door. In all, 1,031 tonnes of recycling was rejected, a 6.8% reject rate.
There is sometimes a problem with recycling paper and card. That problem is the weather. During heavy rain, paper and card can become sodden, even in the blue bag if they are not well sealed. Wet paper can’t be recycled as wetness shortens the fibres and those fibres are important for the stability of newly made paper. Wet paper also can’t be incinerated as it won’t burn because the caloric value is low. That means a lot of wet paper ends up in landfill.
Manufacturers must help too. More goods must be capable of repair and more plastic must be recyclable. If you buy ready meals from a supermarket or convenience store, many of them are no longer in black plastic trays. Black plastic cannot be detected in the mechanical recovery facilities (MRF) used to segregate mixed recyclables. Supermarkets have recognised that the new black must be grey or green, even white, to ensure that the plastic can be recycled. Some have abandoned plastic in favour of paper containers for many products.
Our future is going up in smoke in incinerators. We must make rapid progress towards a zero waste nation. Everyone can contribute to this, including through better household recycling.
Battlefield. The incinerator was turned down by Shropshire Council but Veolia won on appeal. In an unusual move, though the council nonsensically describes it as common practice, the council is paying £759,505 towards Veolia’s appeal costs. I don’t believe that the incinerator would get planning permission today due to its proximity to the Battlefield historic monument (the law was clarified in 2014) but we are stuck with it.
Cabinet. Shropshire Council’s cabinet has an unusual distribution of portfolios. The portfolio holder for Adult Social Services (which includes health), arguably one of the biggest, also deals with climate change. The council has a Portfolio Holder for Culture, Leisure, Waste and Communications – no mention of recycling in the portfolio title let alone a substantive link between culture and waste.
Recycling statistics are not quite what they seem to be on first reading. The headline recycling rate, in the case of Shropshire 54.6 per cent and Telford 47.0 per cent tends to bury a lot of subtleties and distortions in the statistics. One of the biggest distortions is comparing green leafy counties like ours with inner city boroughs. Nationally, two-fifths of recycling is organic material – food and garden waste. There is less domestic greenery in most city centres and, with less green waste, the headline recycling rate goes down. There are other factors that reduce recycling in inner cities and areas with a high population density. It is well established that socio-economic deprivation is associated with lower recycling rates. And there are practical matters, where the heck do you store recycling in you live in flats or bedsits? Local authority waste collections and recycling statistics.