8 July 2015 by Tom Goulding

Birmingham looks to reduce recycling target as rate falls

Birmingham city council looks set to downgrade its 2015/16 recycling target to just 30% – after a damning report revealed recycling within England’s largest local authority has declined.

(UPDATE: For update on Birmingham retaining 35% recycling target please see letsrecycle.com story).

The 2014/15 performance monitoring report also makes concerning revelations of a £893,000 overspend across the council’s fleet and waste management service in 2014/15 and a shortfall of around £1.4 million in commercial paper income due to ‘low market prices’.

Recycling rates in Birmingham have declined further following changes to green waste collections

Recycling rates in Birmingham have declined following changes to green waste collections

The document, which was presented to the council’s cabinet last week (June 29), is likely to disconcert officials at Defra – which hopes to meet a 50% household waste recycling target in England by 2020.

It indicates that the local authority achieved a 29% household recycling rate for the year – missing its 35% target by six percentage points. And, recycling in the city, including civic amenity sites as well as how much waste was recycled, composted or reused by the city’s residents fell ‘behind last year’s result by 2%’.

Birmingham councillors have blamed the missed target on the authority’s decision to introduce a £35 per year charge for green waste collections in early 2014 – which initially saw many residents in the city boycott the service (see letsrecycle.com story).

The report explains that green waste tonnages are down by 11,000 tonnes compared to last year’s result. It adds that had the charge not been introduced, Birmingham’s recycling rate could have risen to 33% based on tonnages produced the previous year.


On its decision to downgrade the recycling target from 35% to 30%, the report states: “There is also a national reduction in paper tonnages due to the demise of newspapers and pamphlets. Wood recycling is also problematic and if the recycling treatment process for it was no longer available then it could reduce recycling by approximately 2-3% (11,500 tonnes per year).

“Combined loss of both these recyclables (approx. 22,500 tonnes) would have a significant impact on the recycling levels, and, the proposed target reflects this.”

The council also reported that while the amount of residual waste produced per household fell from 643.76kg to 622.18kg, it remained above the 600kg target the authority had put in place. It suggests that ‘positive change’ on residual waste tonnages is not expected until the ‘end of 2015’ following the rollout of wheeled bins across the city to boost recycling capacity.

However, the council did make progress on its waste to landfill target. The authority sent just 5.59% of its municipal waste sent to landfill – beating its objective by 1.91%.

The report adds that this is ahead of Birmingham’s other ‘core city colleagues’ and takes into account a scheduled closure of the Veolia-run Tyseley energy from waste plant in November 2014 – which treats 350,000 tonnes of its residual waste per year.

At the time of the closure, the plant had reduced capacity and encountered a number of unplanned outages ‘including fires in the plant’s tipping hall and a breakdown of equipment’.


The council document revealed an overspend in its fleet and waste management service

The council document revealed an overspend in its fleet and waste management service

The report claims that the fleet and waste management overspend has been offset by lower disposal costs of £508,000, due to ‘operating efficiencies’ on the contract that are payable to the authority.

The performance revelations came as Birmingham Friends of the Earth launched a food waste campaign outside of the council building.

The local branch is calling on the council to provide food waste collections for people in the city, and the publicity campaign involved residents queuing up with kitchen caddies outside the building on July 1.

Waste campaigner Libby Harris said: “Waste is a rubbish fuel. We need a waste system that makes best use of the resources in all our waste, instead of letting them go up in smoke in an outdated incinerator. With the council contract with Veolia up in 2019, now is the perfect time for the Council to rethink its waste strategy.

“41% of the residual waste sent to the incinerator is organic matter. By taking food out of the waste stream, and sending the food waste to an anaerobic digester, it becomes a cleaner, renewable energy source.”


Responding to the campaign, councillor Lisa Trickett, cabinet member for sustainability, said the council was in the ‘early stages’ of developing a future waste strategy for the years after 2019.

She said: “We need to ensure that whatever we do from 2019 onwards recognises waste is a resource and that we should make every effort to ensure that anything we do helps Birmingham becomes a zero waste city. As we shape our plans for the future, nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out.”

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