One of the most curious questions asked at committee of late was by Joyce Barrow, the Conservative chair of the Place Overview Committee:
“We all know we had a by-election last year, I’d love to know what the difference in tonnage was because of the amount of leaflets that were put out by all the parties was astronomical, actually diabolical. We are supposed to be going green. Are there any statistics on how much it has gone up…”
The officer responded that he did not want commit but data will be available through Veolia. He said he hoped any excess paper would have gone into the recycling stream (blue bags) not the residual stream (black bins).
Barrow responded, “Can you ask that question. As I say it was all parties that were responsible. But it would be worth knowing.”
I am not a fan of heavy leafleting but I am also not a fan of councillors asking questions which have an obvious answer after a few moments thought. Or that are obviously political despite denials.
I am sure the question, despite Joyce Barrow’s careful wording, was political. The Tory’s campaign in North Shropshire last November and December struggled to get off the ground and eventually fell flat on its face. Labour had a good local candidate but the national party were not interested. The Lib Dems threw everything at it, with the party leader and MPs arriving to campaign regularly and hundreds of activists from Cornwall to Scotland arriving to help. There is no doubt that the Lib Dems delivered the large majority of the leaflets.
Would leafleting during a by-election campaign create a significant or even noticeable impact on waste and recycling volumes? The answer is no.
One obvious reason that the by-election was just before Christmas. Cue all those boxes delivered by couriers. In December 2021, the by-election was held on 18 December, online sales fell compared to the previous December which was during the pandemic. The amount of extra carboard packing to facilitate delivery was likely to have dropped. Recycling was also increasing at that point. This means it is probably impossible to discern any change in paper waste and recycling volumes against background trends. Full statistics on this won’t be available until next year.
But what if the world was flat and there were no external trends affecting waste collection? Would the amount of paper delivered during the North Shropshire by-election have contributed to waste volumes? The answer is still no. Any impact would only be in the region of a 1% increase and probably rather less than that as I much doubt households received 1kg of paper.
My working hypothesis is that each household in North Shropshire received 1kg of election paper (that’s the equivalent of 200 A4 sheets).
There are approximately 47,800 households in North Shropshire and 130,000 in Shropshire. So, in a back of a recycled envelope estimate, North Shropshire generates 37% of the county’s waste.
Veolia collected 10,357 tonnes of mixed paper and card in the 2020/21 year from Shropshire. My working assumption is that 3,800 tonnes was from North Shropshire. If 48 tonnes of paper were delivered through letter boxes during the by-election, the weight of paper collected in blue bags or black bins would have increased by just over one per cent.
This is a rough calculation but it is sufficient to show that any talk of by-election literature having any detectable impact on waste volumes does not make any sense.
Overview and scrutiny committees have always been political on Shropshire Council. Contrary to best practice in local government they are all chaired by the governing administration, the Conservative Party. I don’t think it is right that a scrutiny chair can take advantage of their position to ask a question that didn’t need to be asked, except in trying to score a political point. It is time we had chairs of overview and scrutiny committees that are not Conservatives.