By Will Date
Following a career that has taken in the growth of council kerbside recycling schemes in the UK, local authority recycling pioneer and LARAC executive officer Colin Kirkby MBE is to retire on May 10.
Commenting on his decision to step down, Mr Kirkby said that he had spent a whole year saying goodbye since making the announcement in 2013, but that the realisation had yet to hit home.
Mr Kirkby whose career in the public sector has spanned more than 30 years, says that he will continue to keep busy with community work in his local town of Presteigne, where he is about to begin his sixth term as mayor.
He also plans to spend more time walking, including a planned walk to Northern Spain but says he will be open to offers for work to keep him busy in the future.
Mr Kirkby started working on recycling in Presteigne in 1987, when recycling of household waste was in its infancy, with the development of a bring site which went on to win six national awards.
He commented: It all started because a bottle bank was given to Norton and not to us, so we bought our own. By 1994, we had achieved a recycling rate of 30%.
His efforts in Presteigne saw Mr Kirkby appointed recycling officer for Cardiff city council in 1989, where he was instrumental in introducing one of the first kerbside recycling systems, which included a green sack for commingled recyclables. He also sought to pioneer the use of anaerobic digestion as a treatment option for local authority organic waste.
Mr Kirkby then got involved with the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) in 1995 joining the organisations executive a year later as vice chair. In 2001 he took on a more permanent role within LARAC as administrative officer and helped steer the organisation from a perilous financial position into a thriving body for council recycling officers.
‘It all started because a bottle bank was given to Norton and not to us, so we bought our own. By 1994, we had achieved a recycling rate of 30%.’
He said: Soon after I started in 2001 I discovered that LARAC was close to bankruptcy. The Buy Recycled scheme had been set up to encourage people to buy recycled products, but it spiralled out of control and costs escalated.
My aim from then on was that it would always be on a firm financial footing. We have built it back up and since then it has become bigger and bigger, and we have started doing a lot more initiatives so the job has just grown organically.
He also commented that he is proud that LARAC has grown from being seen as an Anglo-centric organisation to having strong representation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
His public service efforts were recognised last year, when he was awarded an MBE in the Queens Birthday Honours list for services to the environment and the community for both his contribution to developing recycling and other voluntary work in Powys (see letsrecycle.com story).
During his time in the sector, Mr Kirkby says he has seen recycling collection schemes change from largely bring site-based systems to a comprehensive kerbside network, with landfill tax completely changing the finances of the industry.
However, he expects that councils will be faced with a number of challenges in the future including having to deal with a greater volume of mixed plastics and film packaging, treatment of organic waste alongside the pressure to reinstate weekly collections of waste.
He added: The biggest problem councils are facing is Pickles. Here we are going forwards not trying to deprive people of their fortnightly collection system.
Mr Kirkby says that he will still keep a close eye on developments in the waste sector, and has been named an honorary LARAC member meaning he will still be eligible to attend the organisations AGM and future conferences.
Former Powys council waste and policy manager Lee Marshall is to take over many of Mr Kirkbys duties when he joins LARAC as chief executive next month having chaired the organisation for four years (see letsrecycle.com story).