We have all seen it. Plastic recyclables blown out of boxes put out on the pavement ready for collection for Veolia. The boxes are not fit for purpose. They do not have lids and even if that was the case, there is a chance of the lids going the same way as the plastic milk bottles and trays that litter our streets in a decent storm.
The good news is that Conservative administration for Shropshire made an election pledge to replace boxes with wheelie bins. The bad news is that the Conservatives had not worked through the election pledge. Any commitment will depend on costs and decisions to be made later in the year. With finances under stretch and no more than a weak commitment to tackling the climate emergency from the Conservative administration, the manifesto commitment on recycling might prove to be just rubbish.
This should not a surprise. The Conservatives promised £40 million for roads in their manifesto for the May Shropshire Council elections. It very soon transpired that the council does not have the money. The promise was based on hopes of government grants, saving in other budgets and wishful thinking about the government diverting money from cities in the red wall to the leafy shires. It was fantasy money.
Yesterday, we learnt that the pledge to give households the option of a third wheelie bin for dry recyclables instead of boxes was also short of a pledge. The council is to begin discussions with the authority’s waste and recycling contractor Veolia on the feasibility of using wheelie bins in place of boxes. It thought the bins might be optional, allowing residents that do not have space for another bin to continue to use boxes. Whether those boxes will have lids is not known.
Negotiations with Veolia are made more complicated because the council is locked into a 27-year Private Finance Initiative contract with the company. Veolia does a good job but the complexity of PFI contracts means that negotiations can be lengthy and not all desired cost savings and efficiency gains can be achieved.
All we know at the moment is that little or no groundwork has yet been done with Veolia and a proposal will be brought to the cabinet later in the year.
This is well short of a manifesto commitment to roll out wheelie bins for recyclables. It is no more than a commitment to talk to Veolia about the possibility.
The blue bags used for paper and card are proving not to be fit for purpose. They let in rainwater. Sodden truck loads of wet paper cannot be recycled or incinerated and are dumped into landfill. Veolia is in discussions with its supplier about “alternative designs for the blue bag”. That’s good news.
The Conservatives are less committed to recycling rates. Interviews by BBC Radio Shropshire on her first day in office, new council leader Lezley Picton said it would be a priority to increase recycling rates. But it’s response to my question on household recycling shows its commitment is far too weak for a council that has declared a climate emergency.
Question from Andy Boddington on recycling at 7 June Cabinet
Answers in italics from Ian Nellins, portfolio holder for Climate Change, Natural Assets & The Green Economy.
One of the pledges of the returning administration was to replace open topped tubs with wheelie bins for dry recyclables, excluding paper and card. The council leader has pledged to increase recycling rates.
Q1) What is the most up to date statistic on recycling in the unitary area? Could this response be split between dry recyclables (glass, plastic, metals); paper and card; and green composting?
The latest audited figures are for 2019/20 where the rate was 54.6%. The estimated split across all sources of household waste (i.e. kerbside collections, HRC’s and Bulk collections) is Composting 29%, Paper & Card 6.5%, Other (including paper, glass, and plastics) 19.1%.
Q2) Similar rural areas to ours such as South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse recycle 63 to 64 per cent of their waste. Shropshire’s recycling rate stagnated at around 57 per cent in the three years 2017/18 to 2019/20. What plans does the council have to boost recycling rates to match the level achieved by the best performing councils in England?
Although we will always try to improve our performance the comparison with the best performing Councils should be put in the context of our relative standing with other Councils in England where Shropshire currently ranks 43rd out of 341 Local Authorities, in the top 13%.
In the short term, the provision of bins for recycling will give residents greater capacity to divert recyclable waste from the residual bin and also reduce the amount lost due to wind-blown littering. Future plans will be largely driven by changes to the national Resources and Waste Strategy proposed as part of the Environment Bill currently moving through the parliamentary process. The Bill contains plans for a Deposit Return Scheme, Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging waste, and a new set of requirements for household and business waste collections. All three elements will have a significant impact on household waste management, changing the weight and nature of waste collected from the kerbside, how it is funded, and a new set of minimum requirements for waste collection services. The Bill will become law within the next 12 months and once the requirements are clear we will look at the obligations and opportunities it presents in conjunction with Veolia.
Q3). At December 2017 Council, I asked about introducing wheelie bins for dry recyclables. Part of the response was:
“The introduction of wheeled bins for recycling was discussed with Veolia before the rollout of the new recycling service in 2016. However, the cost of around £600,000 p.a. could not be justified due to other budget pressures.”
What is the current estimated cost of introducing wheelie bins and the recurrent costs in emptying them?
The exact cost has not been reviewed for some time but the council is currently working with its contractor, Veolia, to identify what the cost and any savings that may be available from introducing wheelie bins could be and a proposal will be brought forward to Cabinet later in the year.
Q3). A common complaint is that the blue bags for paper and card are wearing out. They are prone to letting in rainwater. If a recycling collection has a particularly wet load, I understand that the paper and card can consigned to landfill. What plans does the council have to review and upgrade the blue bag system?
Veolia are currently in discussions with their supplier to evaluate alternative designs for the blue bag.