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Feature: Piling on the pounds

Our post-Christmas waistlines might have slipped another belt notch in the wrong direction, but it is unlikely that Somerset Waste Partnership (SWP) will be worrying too much about the annual gluttony-fest. The partnership is just over a year into an innovative multi-collection waste programme that has seen it scoop up a huge increase in recyclable waste and a positively Santa-esque sackfull of awards, including Best Local Authority Initiative at MRW’s National Recycling Awards in October.

The accolades all focus on Somerset’s SORT IT! collection services, in which a weekly food waste collection has been introduced in tandem with recycling in a scheme where general refuse is only collected fortnightly and a paid-for garden waste collection runs on a two-week cycle.

Results from the scheme have been excellent – with some areas tipping the 50% recycled mark and food waste, previously uncollected outside of the general waste, running at a rate of 93kg per household per year.

”I think the first thing to stress is that this is very much a programme of collections, which were introduced together and have benefited from the combination,” says SWP recycling development officer David Mansell. “Looking at our figures, we are convinced that we have had such a strong response to the food waste because for it to be collected weekly the householders have to recycle it, whereas if they put it in the general refuse then it is not collected for two weeks.”

Indeed, Mansell notes that because the food waste was introduced at the same time as an entire new system, it got little specific comment from residents: “They knew that something big was happening in the way that their waste was to be collected. Although our food waste proposal had grabbed a lot of attention outside the area, it was just part of a wider change as far as our householders were concerned. In fact, the only area where we had much complaint was from people who didn’t like having wheelie bins.”

The programme started in October 2004, the result of a wide-ranging review two years earlier in which the region created the outline strategy for how it was going to to tackle its waste and the subsequent award of £5.5 million in Defra money.

Dealing with food waste was on the agenda, at least in principle, and Mansell admits that, like many authorities, Somersetwanted the legislative issues to be cleared up before it began to recycle food waste. In conjunction with contractor ECT, it came to the conclusion that the time was right when the new programme was introduced.

That scheme is now run in three out of five council areas that come under the auspices of the SWP, comprising Somerset County Council, Mendip, South Somerset, Sedgemoorand West Somerset District Councils, and Taunton Deane Borough Council. Each of the three participating regions will have achieved full implementation by the end of this year. Mendip should complete the full roll-out by the end of this month, adding 15,000 more homes to the 90,000 households already covered by the operation. South Somerset and Taunton Deane will catch up this autumn, when they will achieve full implementation and the total number of homes from which food waste is collected will reach 150,000.

Under the system, households are supplied with a 180-litre wheelie bin for general waste (a smaller 140-litre bin is also offered and is popular with older residents, while a 240-litre bin is offered to famil

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