A Wasted Opportunity

Well that didn’t take long!

Back in February 2012 I suggested that the Vale of Glamorgan’s new ‘chuck it all in one bag’ recycling service was doomed from the start. Not only that, but that council officers knew that it was doomed to be an expensive failure and pressed ahead with the changes in the full knowledge that this day would come.

And now it has.

Here’s part of what I said 18 months ago:

So it looks like co-mingled collections are about to be placed on the scrap-heap. And that brings us back to our council tax.

The report on which this change was based (authors: Clifford Parish and Rob Quick) noted all sorts of ways in which the move to co-mingling would save lots of money (£284k) for the cash-strapped Vale. Presumably, the reverse move in a year or two will mean an awful lot of incurred costs. Not to mention an erosion in goodwill of Vale residents towards the recycling service.

Incidentally, it does seem a little odd that Clifford Parish in his role as Chair of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management Wales didn’t think that a legal challenge to the definition of co-mingling might be reason to approach this plan with caution. I’m not sure that an institution that “demands the highest levels of professionalism and excellence” would be overly pleased that one of its most august members had failed to take into account such an obvious risk to a major project. (And talking of major projects, a certain Cliff Parish is found hiding on the list of project executives of Prosiect Gwyrdd). But I’m sure the officers did what they thought was best using the information available.

The detailed reasoning for the end of co-mingled recycling in Wales is not what I’d anticipated. In a stunning turn-around for stupidity over reason, the Campaign for Real Recycling lost its judicial review that had challenged the government’s claim that co-mingled matches the European definition of waste “kept separate by type and nature” (for a bit more detail, see here).

But it seems as if the pressure put on the Welsh Government (and their stooges at Defra) has belatedly roused them from their stupor. Because the Welsh Government’s draft Environment Bill includes this gem of a proposal:

We are proposing to give Welsh Ministers the power to:
• Require businesses and the public sector to present their recyclable waste separately for collection;
• Require waste collectors to collect specified materials separately;

Ok, so having the powers doesn’t mean that Welsh Ministers will use them. But if Welsh Ministers weren’t minded to use them, why include them in the White Paper?

Further information comes from the unlikely hero of old Etonian hereditary peer Lord Rupert Charles Ponsonby, 7th Baron de Mauley:

From 1st January 2015 an establishment or undertaking which collects waste paper, metal, plastic or glass must do so by way of separate collection. These requirements apply where separate collection:

(a) is necessary, in effect, to provide high quality recyclates, and
(b) is technically, environmentally and economically practicable.

Where waste paper, metal, plastic or glass has been collected separately all reasonable steps must be taken to keep that stream separate from other waste streams wherever this is necessary to provide high quality recyclates.

It is clear that the intention is that these requirements should represent a high hurdle. I am aware that co-mingled metal and plastic are relatively easy to separate at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). However, at present many of our existing MRFs struggle to keep glass shards out of the paper stream. In addition many MRFs produce low quality mixed glass which needs further sorting and can be uneconomic to re-smelt. I look to local authorities actively to address these problems, by the effective implementation of the new regulations and by tackling problems with operating practices.

Separate collection does not of course mean that each household will need more bins. For example, many areas have kerbside sort systems where materials are sorted before being loaded into the waste collection vehicle. The WRAP website is a useful source of help.

Any local authorities considering new collection or disposal plans should take care to ensure that they are placing themselves in a position to fulfil their legal duties from 2015. This is particularly important for local authorities who may be considering moving away from separate collection, or including glass within a co-mingled stream. Local authorities should consult their own lawyers as necessary, and should keep a clear audit trail given the potential for legal challenge.

Does anyone in the Vale remember “kerbside sort systems where materials are sorted before being loaded into the waste collection vehicle”? Yes, it’s the very same system that the Vale surrendered with such aplomb in September 2011.

The Environment Bill is set to become law in 2015 – and let’s not forget the ominous “potential for legal challenge” starting on 1 January 2015 if paper, metal, glass or plastic are not collected separately.

I anticipate some very tense discussions down at Barry Docks, starting, erm, round about now.

Rhowch sylw

Filed under Vale of Glamorgan Council, Waste, Welsh Government

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