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Feature: Why the North-East is down on being up

After the weekend's disappointing match, 30,000 'Toon fans will have mournfully cast aside those briefly cherished FA Cup semi-final programmes - but they are much more likely to have landed in a recycling box than the bin.

Last month the North-East of England received what, to date, has been a rare bit of good news about its generally lamentable recycling rates as a report declared that household waste recycling is growing quicker in the North-East than in any other area of England.

The headline figures from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) showed householders in England recycling and composting nearly 17.7% of their household waste, but a breakdown of the regional figures showed that recycling of household waste in the North-East increased by an incredible 80% during 2003/04 compared with 2002/03.

While these figures do need to be taken in context - the North-East still recorded the lowest recycling rate of any region in the country at 11.9% - the turnaround is startling and, it would seem, vindicates the strategic decision to develop a five-strong collaborative project in the area. However, the region's recycling chiefs remain frustrated that the figures are not better still.

It all began in 2000, when the five Tyne and Wear councils - North Tyneside, Newcastle, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead - agreed to set up a joint paper bank scheme. "This came about through the fact that we all communicated regularly," says South Tyneside waste operations co-ordinator Tom Turner, who has been central to the project. "The following year we started talking about kerbside collections and when we were hit with the Government's recycling targets a real momentum got behind the initiative." Ultimately that has resulted in a joint project, rolling out kerbside collections to about 500,000 households in a bid to increase tonnages in the region.

Originally the five councils wanted to set up a joint contract for a fortnightly service using 55 litre boxes to collect paper, glass, cans, plastic bottles and textiles, though this was later split into two: the two local authorities north of the river signing with SITA while Premier Waste Management was contracted by the three councils south of the river. "Providing that the contracts met certain conditions it was not crucial that we all went with one contractor and for various reasons, in part to do with who won DEFRA funding, we went for two separate contractors," says Turner.

Newcastle and North Tyneside began the roll out of kerbside collections in June 2003 to a total of 195,000 households with the final phase taking it to 208,000 homes in February 2004. South Tyneside and Gateshead councils also jointly launched their £2.7 million kerbside scheme covering 150,000 properties in 2003. Although the latter contracts were awarded separately, the two councils jointly promote the scheme and Premier Waste shares vehicles and depots across the two areas. "Although there are some specifics, Gateshead bought and badged some vehicles and we did the same at South Tyneside, so they get used in their local area only, we give Premier a pretty free hand to achieve economies of scale," Turner explains.

In August South Tyneside Council extended its recycling remit by introducing Kerb-it Green, with green waste bins delivered to 19,000 homes with gardens for residents to recycle garden waste. These are emptied every two weeks in summer and monthly during winter. A further 26,000 homes with gardens received their bins last month.

At Gateshead new green

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