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Times they are a changing in UK recycling

Steve Smith

The appalling weather at Christmas, combined with numerous bank holidays, produced some trying times for waste and recycling collections. With another flurry of bank holidays coming up in April, some operators are already expressing concern about potential pressures on the system.

In some parts of the country, householders did not receive a waste or recycling collection for six weeks during the Christmas period – shocking in the cold light of day. For many who lacked enough storage, a trip to nearby bring banks or the local household waste recycling centre was in order. But, as the local authority cuts tighten, these may be increasingly under threat.

“Infrastructure changes need to take place without harming the progress we have made”

The Localism Bill, which is currently being debated at committee stage, has already drawn criticism for some of the measures to be implemented. Communities secretary Eric Pickles is determined to see a return to weekly rubbish collections, having fought for a long time over the ideals of bin taxes and fines.

I am not sure how this fits with the requirement under the waste hierarchy, set out in the Waste Framework Directive, to promote waste prevention and re-use. While there may be circumstances where weekly collections are appropriate, we must be sure that we continue to promote recycling and encourage generation of less waste – we must ensure that people continue to think about what general waste they generate.

The Bill will give councils more freedom to prioritise the way they spend their money, giving them the chance to perhaps introduce fortnightly collections or share operational costs with their neighbours. This conflicts with Pickles’ insistence on leading from central Government and stating we should have weekly collections. Can there be a central agenda under Localism?

The Bill also proposes to give residents the opportunity to force a referendum if the council receives a petition with signatures from 5% of residents – if they’re not happy with the way their recycling scheme is operating, providing value for money or serving their needs, for example.

If such a referendum was held in the first week of January, how many people would have voted for a change in procedures? What happens next winter when weather conditions make it difficult to collect waste and recycling again, and there are fewer opportunities for residents to recycle elsewhere in their neighbourhood?

In many areas there is talk about cutting bring banks or closing or reducing the hours of recycling centres. If this is the case, what happens to the recycling? I imagine it will end up in the general waste bin.

The infrastructure for recycling and disposing of waste is going to change during the next few years, particularly as more people see the true value in what they throw away. But it needs to take place without harming the progress we have already made on getting people to recycle and their understanding on what needs to be achieved.

People, at whatever place in the supply chain, still need educating or reminding of the importance of reducing waste, re-use and recycling. It will take a great deal of time to change peoples’ attitudes permanently.

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