Local authorities have come under fire from a public spending lobby group following backlogs of waste at bring-banks on supermarket sites and queues at civic amenity sites across England, in the wake of the festive period.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has said that while it recognises councils face extra pressure over the Christmas/New Year period, local authorities should know that it happens at the same time every year and be better prepared. But, local authority recycling officers have argued that councils are working over Christmas and that pile-ups at bring banks are just a “reality”.
However, others have pointed the finger of blame at reprocessors, suggesting that falling commodity prices have led to particular problems this year, with contractors reluctant to take on extra staff to deal with the excess volumes of material such as textiles and card from bring banks, which may have fallen in value.
Reports of large volumes of waste at bring sites were far and wide over the past two weeks with London, Derby, Sheffield and Basingstoke among areas observed during the period between Christmas and New Year.
Civic amenity sites
The pile-ups of material at banks were matched in some areas with long queues at civic amenity sites such as in Swindon and Doncaster as residents looked to discard of excess volumes of waste.
In Winchester, Hampshire rows of glass bottles were seen to have accumulated at a bring-site run by supermarket chain Tesco at its store in the city, having accumulated following the New Year period. A spokesman for the company has since revealed that it is considering increasing collections locally around bank holidays to account for increases in volume of material.
Harry Davis, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told letsrecycle.com that he accepted there will be a strain on local authority-run services over the festive period, but he said that councils should be prepared for an increase in activity over the season.
He said: “It is understandable for Christmas to be an exceptionally busy time for local authorities, especially as councils make necessary savings. But Christmas happens at the same time every year and therefore taxpayers should expect their council leaders to be better prepared for excess recyclable waste during this period.”
In defence of local authorities, Andrew Bird, chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), commented that most councils will aim to keep services running as normally as possible.
He said: “My gut feeling at the moment is that volumes are about normal – we have heard about queues at HWRCs and piles at bring sites. It is just a reality and what you tend to find is that where years ago collections used to stop over Christmas that is now very rare – so actually local authorities work every day except maybe Christmas and New Year’s day.
“It is only right that they have those days off and where those days fall can be disruptive but local authorities do communicate with people on what to do.”
Others have added that some responsibility for backlogs should be borne by contractors, particularly those running bring bank sites where they may be less keen to take on material.
One local authority source said that it appeared that contractors serving supermarket sites were not keeping up with collections.
And, Steve Read, managing director of the Somerset Waste Partnership, said that the Partnership did not now have banks in its area, and confirmed that market forces could be having an effect on the speed at which collections are taking place.
Mr Read commented: “Banks did tend to attract flyptipping and we found that we did not need them as we collect most materials on a weekly basis.”
However, he said that he recognised there were problems with banks in some areas of the country and that market pressures could be a factor in them not being emptied quickly enough by reprocessors and their contractors. “Reprocessors are struggling with material values and finding it harder to resource the collections of recycling banks. At Christmas you have a surge and need to find new resources at what can be a huge additional costs.”
Textiles recyclers are one sector where banks have been full over Christmas for several days. In West London, Salvation Army banks were full at one Waitrose site with material stacked up alongside them.
No-one was available from the Salvation Army to comment on the charity’s collection services over the festive period.