28 March 2019 by Elizabeth Slow

Call for ‘freedom of choice’ on residual frequency

Councils should retain their “freedom of choice” over frequency of residual waste collections, one local authority expert has suggested.

The comments came from Emma Beal, managing director of the West London Waste Authority (WLWA), during a panel debate at the National Food Waste Conference in London yesterday (27 March).

Panel debate: (l-r) David Newman, World Biogas Association; Iain Pickles, Biogen; Emma Beal, WLWA; Jeremy Jacobs, REA; and Claire Shrewsbury, WRAP

Speaking during the first session of the conference, Ms Beal described the consistency proposals for food waste as “the most expensive way that we could engineer food waste collections within what is a very high quality, low cost waste management system”.

Frequency

“To reduce the cost within the current system, I think one of the things you have to do is remove the notion of minimum residual waste collections,” she said. “If there are some local authorities that want to go further and lead the way [with reduced frequency collections], then why not let them?”

In its consistency consultation, Defra said the government wants to ensure “that householders are not inconvenienced by being unable to get rid of putrescent or smelly waste weekly or having insufficient capacity to recycle or to remove residual waste”.

This comes with the proposal that Defra introduces statutory guidance on minimum service standards for local authorities.

Participation

The support for more control over reducing the frequency of residual waste collections was echoed by Iain Pickles, head of sales at organics recycler Biogen. Mr Pickles explained that one of the company’s local authority customers had seen a 15% increase in food waste recycling since switching to a four-weekly residual waste service.

Mr Pickles said he was not convinced that cost is the “main barrier” to separate food collections. He commented that he had seen councils with up to 45% food waste in their residents’ residual waste bins, and emphasised that the cost of sending this to energy from waste or landfill is higher than AD gate fees.

Reduced residual waste collection frequency helps to boost participation in food waste collection services, an organic waste recycler has claimed

Instead, Biogen’s head of sales identified long contractual agreements as “the biggest barrier” for local authorities to implementing weekly separate food waste collections, “because the main thing that stimulates changes is vehicles.”

He said this is leaving local authorities effectively ‘locked in’ to collecting waste in a certain way and “changing is very hard”.

“That’s why in-house services, local authority-run waste disposal companies or waste collection companies which we’re seeing more of, may have that flexibility to change,” he said.

Contamination

The panel also discussed the issue of contamination in feedstocks of food waste being sent to recyclers, which Jeremy Jacobs, technical director of the Renewable Energy Association (REA), identified as one of the “biggest issues” for organics sites.

David Newman, president of the World Biogas Association commented on the volume of plastic still going to land, with 0.125% of plastic residues permitted within the PAS110 standard – amounting to around 1,500 plastic bags’ worth of plastic contained within digestate spread over a hectare of land.

However, Mr Jacobs suggested that the plastic limit in the PAS100 could be tightened. Mr Jacobs explained that in Scotland the plastic limit in PAS100 has been halved to 0.06%. “The likelihood is from our discussions with SEPA and the EA is that that’s likely to come south of the border.”

According to Mr Jacobs, organics recyclers are reluctant to reject loads as they are “terrified” of losing the contracts.

One audience member pointed out that local authority contracts with plants can allow for up to 15% contamination levels in feedstocks, for example. However, Biogen’s Iain Pickles suggested that it was in local authorities’ interest to limit contamination as the allowance on contamination would determine the price paid.

The session also heard from Claire Shrewsbury, head of government and communities at WRAP who gave a keynote address (see letsrecycle.com story).

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