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Q&A: Biffa on why Ashford's success isn't universal

Defra’s local authority statistics released last month revealed wide variations in household recycling between neighbouring councils, and the industry is now scratching its head as to what it can do to bring poor-performing authorities up to the level of the best recyclers.

Pete Dickson, Biffa

Pete Dickson, left, commercial director for Biffa Municipal, tells MRW some of the reasons he thinks Ashford Borough Council has managed to triple its recycling rates in a year when other authorities have seemingly floundered.

Recycling rates may vary between authorities for a number of different reasons. Why?

“Whatever the service, performance may be affected by affluence: better-off areas appear to perform better. Different services provide different recycling outputs e.g. weekly vs fortnightly residual waste; wheeled bins vs sacks vs boxes for dry recycling, and so on.

“The greater the magnitude of change, the greater the recycling performance uplift. South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils are first and third in Defra’s latest league tables because they made big service changes. Consistent persuasive communication is key when introducing new services.”

How can recycling rates be improved?

“By identifying big step changes in service and introducing them all together, e.g. reduce residual waste frequency and/or introduce small wheeled bins to restrict volume; introduce separate food waste collections; change container type for dry recycling; and mount a simple, effective and focused communications campaign.

“I don’t agree with introducing recycling reward schemes as they risk increasing contamination.”

Ashford Borough Council is clearly a success story, but another authority in that partnership, Swale, is not doing nearly so well. Why do you think this kind of difference can appear?

“Ashford went for a far bigger service change, and probably has greater relative affluence, which led to it tripling recycling to 42% in a year. Swale has had fortnightly refuse collections for over seven years, so residents were well used to that system before separate food waste collections began. Only those really committed to recycling broke the habit of putting food waste in their refuse.

“Ashford, on the other hand, introduced separate food collections alongside wheeled bins and fortnightly residual collection frequency. This forced far more sweeping and immediate change in residents’ recycling habits.”

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