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Councils facing backlash after dropping cardboard collections

Householders are to be given new guidance on composting in an attempt to explain why some councils have stopped collecting cardboard alongside organic waste.

Tougher composting standards have prevented councils from commingling cardboard with other compostable materials because it often contains too many contaminants such as plastic. The stricter limits were imposed following demands from the agricultural sector and concerns over poor quality compost.

But after implementing the new collection regime a number of local authorities received complaints from angry residents concerned that cardboard could be sent to landfill. A petition started by one resident has forced Shropshire Council, which is looking into separate cardboard kerbside collections, to stage a formal debate on the matter.

The guidance is being drawn up by WRAP and the Association for Organics Recycling (AfOR) to outline the need for better quality compost.

Jeremy Jacobs, AfOR managing director said: “This will show the rationale behind changing cardboard collections. You’ve got to convince the householder first and foremost.”

The stricter standards were set out in Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 100 on composted materials produced by the British Standards Institution. The percentage of non-compostable material allowable in recycled organic waste was halved from 0.25% to 0.12%.

Before the new standard was applied around 50-60 local authorities offered commingled cardboard and organic waste kerbside collections. AfOR has used the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee to get the message out to councils that the new standards were driven by market forces and not from government regulations.

Mr Jacobs said it was understandable that councils were worried about the cost of changing their service, but pointed to the potential financial benefits of selling baled cardboard.

“PAS100 allows you to take material if it’s got plain cardboard in it,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. The issue has arisen whereby local authorities are allowing all sorts of cardboard, so there’s stuff with plastic on and with coatings which could compromise the quality of the output. They’ve effectively just allowed anything to go in there.

“We need to keep the pressure up and keep a consistent message going through. This isn’t about us being difficult, we want to ensure the PAS100 scheme is managed responsibly.”

One affected authority is Shropshire Council. Patrick Cosgrove, who set up the petition calling on Shropshire Council to reinstate kerbside cardboard collections, consulted with AfOR over the situation. So far more than 1,300 people have signed.

Mike Owen, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for waste and recycling, said: “We are disappointed that we’ve had to make changes to the way we collect cardboard.

“All cardboard that is placed in our new cardboard recycling banks or taken to our household recycling centres will be recycled.

“The changes to national composting standards mean that cardboard can no longer be mixed with garden waste in a move designed to improve the quality of compost for the gardening market.”

A statement from Shrewsbury Friends of the Earth read: “Whilst they’ll still be accepting cardboard at the amenity sites this isn’t adequate and a large amount of valuable cardboard will end up going unnecessarily to landfill.”

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