Innovative engagement with communities is key to improving recycling, according to local authority recycling officers speaking at the LARAC Conference 2019.
Officers from Swansea and Cheshire West and Chester councils, as well as Zero Waste Scotland, gave the Birmingham audience an overview of their work tackling consistency. Their projects demonstrated the value in working closely with specific residents and working cooperatively with people in the local area.
Reporting back from Swansea, Rebecca Tribe – waste minimisation, commercial and domestic recycling team supervisor at the city council – described the success of the Welsh city’s Keep It Out campaign.
The programme sees residents who put recyclable materials in their residual waste targeted with specific communications and advice to improve their behaviour – as well as ultimately facing the prospect of fines if their habits do not change.
Explaining the impetus for Keep It Out, Ms Tribe said: “Why don’t we use the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) to encourage better recycling behaviour?”
Section 46 of the EPA 1990 allows a waste collection authority to “require the occupier to place the waste for collection in receptacles of a kind and number specified”. Section 47ZB which refers to penalty payments has been decriminalised in England, but not Wales, meaning Welsh councils can recover Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) through criminal procedures instead of civil.
The campaign is a four stage education and enforcement process – a series of letters are sent to those put recyclables in the wrong bin, their waste is not collected and staff will try to speak personally to residents to help them understand what they are doing wrong.
The fixed penalty notice is a last resort. Only two have been issued since the scheme began on 25 February, compared to 5046 initial letters sent to warn households that they are disposing of their recycling incorrectly. If residents do improve their recycling behaviour, Swansea council sends out thank you letters to recognise their efforts.
“Keep It Out only has an impact on those who do not recycle or are poor recyclers,” Ms Tribe commented.
“We’ve made it really easy to recycle, now we have to make it really hard not to recycle.”
Swansea brought in alternate week residual collections for its 111,000 properties in 2011 and Ms Tribe believes it was these changes to black bag waste which have pushed recycling rates up to 63%.
Cheshire West and Chester
Community engagement was considered by officers from Cheshire West and Chester council too, who opted to switch to an in-house waste collection service from April 2020 earlier this month. (see Letsrecycle.com story)
“We want to work more on empowering the workforce and the community.”
Jody Sherratt, contracts manager for waste at the North Western local authority, said the council would look to do “more sharing with the community” once it was operating as a Local Authority Trading Organisation (LATO).
“We have the problem of staff feeling like small cogs in a big corporate machine,” Mr Sherratt said.
He suggested that waste managers might spend too much time focusing on “the big things” like government policy, rather than the everyday workings of the services.
He explained: “We want much more investment in IT. We want to work more on empowering the workforce and the community.”
Speaking alongside his colleague Alison Butler, who works as waste commissioner at Cheshire West and Chester, the pair announced that the area had reached a 58.97% recycling rate for 2018/19 following its change to a weekly kerbside sort system.
The LARAC audience also heard from Zero Waste Scotland’s Jon Marshall, sector manager for recycling, about efforts for councils to work collaboratively north of the border.
The Scottish Household Recycling Charter which was launched in 2015 has now been signed by all but two Scottish councils. It aims to add more consistency to the services that local authorities offer their residents.
Though unified bin colours were never agreed and there are still many differences in waste provisions, grant funding has been made available to councils looking to change their services in line with the charter.
“Each local authority is coming from a very different starting point. We often talk about herding cats and that is what this is,” said Mr Marshall.