Waste issues on local election frontline

By Tom Goulding

Political parties in England are facing off on issues around waste and recycling in the lead up to next weeks council elections, with flatlining recycling rates and charges for services among the flashpoints.

With polling day scheduled to coincide with the European elections on May 22 this year, the race to win over voters is heating up with recycling rates, kerbside sorting, and green waste collections among the issues on the agenda.

Political parties in England are facing off over waste issues in the run up to the 2014 council elections
Political parties in England are facing off over waste issues in the run up to the 2014 council elections

In Birmingham, the Conservatives have picked residents growing dissatisfaction with garden waste collections as their main battleground, declaring it will axe the garden tax if it gains control of the council later this month.

Earlier this year, the Labour-run city council decided to introduce an opt-in 35 a year charge for green bag collections, and 25 for collecting bulky waste from households. The council said the fee was introduced as it needed to cut two thirds of its entire controllable budget (see letsrecycle.com story).

But the Conservatives argue the move has caused widespread problems including an increase in flytipping and hour-long queues to dispose of garden waste at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) that have warranted a police presence.

The party lost its majority in the last round of local elections in 2012, and currently has 28 councillors representing Birmingham compared to Labours 76. It is contending 41 wards in the city.

Conservative councillor for Edgbaston Deirdre Alden said: People are frustrated about having to pay for this service, and people are also frustrated because it has been so mismanaged. I had constituents who had to ring up and ask for the bags to be collected even after paying.

When we were running the council, which we were until 2012, we worked on the basis it was a price worth paying to take the garden waste away for free. Labour would rather spend the money on a 3 million policy department, which shows it does not have any ideas of its own.

Reading

Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats are campaigning for plastics and glass recycling at the kerbside in Reading where it is currently only accepted at HWRCs.

Reading borough council, which achieved an overall recycling rate of 36.09%, currently operates an alternate weekly residual waste and commingled recycling collection service operated by FCC Environment, under its PFI-funded re3 partnership with Bracknell Forest and Wokingham.

‘Too much recycling goes into landfill and a lot of glass ends up in general waste. When we have gone out and talked to local residents most people are more than happy to extend recycling at the kerbside.’

– Ricky Duveen, Liberal Democrat councillor

Lib Dem councillor Ricky Duveen has claimed that if re-elected, he will continue to campaign for the inclusion of kerbside collections of all types of plastics and glass within the 25-year contract, which he argues too often end up in landfill.

He said: Too much recycling goes into landfill and a lot of glass ends up in general waste. When we have gone out and talked to local residents most people are more than happy to extend recycling at the kerbside.

Mr Duveen went on to cite Veolia Environmental Services processing of mixed plastic feedstock at its materials recycling facility (MRF) situated just outside of Reading as one way neighbouring West Berkshire council had increased its recycling rate to 50%.

The Lib Dems which only have four seats in the borough – are contesting all 15 wards and Mr Duveen is confident the party will make up for its losses in 2012. He boasts that, alongside the Greens, they are the only party to campaign for higher recycling rates on a nationwide scale.

Brighton & Hove

But, in Brighton & Hove, the Greens are under fire as Labour seeks to improve the councils 26.80% overall recycling rate, which was achieved in 2012/13.

The Green Party currently holds minority control over the council with 23 seats across 10 wards, including six councillors in Hove.

The party has stated that while each local party will produce its own manifesto, it will fight the 2014 local election on continuing to resist the construction of polluting incinerators and expensive waste deals that produce waste for landfill.

Labour is out to boost recycling in Brighton & Hove
Labour is out to boost recycling in Brighton & Hove

However, in Brighton & Hove Labour councillor Warren Morgan has pointed out that the total composting and recycling rate for the authority has fallen from 28.1% in 2011/12.

In addition, he has drawn attention to the bin strikes over modernised pay conditions which, according to trade unions, left Brighton city centre a bomb site last summer. Another round of strikes over amendments to the collection service was averted this month after the GMB and the council reached an agreement (see letsrecycle.com story).

Laying out Labours plans for the authority, Mr Morgan stated: As one of our first priorities, during our first year we will ensure that rubbish is collected, that streets are kept clean and that recycling levels begin to climb again.

Less recycling is collected now than in 2007, and Brighton and Hove is recycling less than half the waste of most similar cities. This must change. Residents expect their refuse and recycling to be collected, and their streets cleaned; the most basic and universal of services people expect in return for their council tax.

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