Angus Council says recycling not only helps environment but saves cash

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Last week was Recycling Week, and we’re constantly being told to recycle more, but does it actually make a difference which bin you put your cardboard box or glass bottle in?

As it turns out - yes it does. We often hear how recycling is good for the environment but according to Angus Council it also saves money in expensive landfill costs.

One of the 34 collection vehicles in Angus

One of the 34 collection vehicles in Angus

The council rolled out its new waste scheme more than a year ago with households now having a smaller purple general waste bin, a large recycling bin, a brown bin for food waste and those with gardens, a green one for garden waste.

Following a successful trial in 2012, the scheme was rolled out in stages - the first phase was in March/April 2014 in Monifieth, Carnoustie and Arbroath, the second in June/July 2014 was the Forfar and Kirriemuir area and the final in October/November was in Montrose and Brechin.

The local authority introduced the system after the Scottish Government set it a target of upping its recycling rate from 40 per cent to 60 per cent by 2020.

Graeme Dailly, service manager for environmental management and waste at Angus Council, told us the recycling rate in the county has risen by 11 per cent from 41 per cent to 52 per cent (for the year ending March 31, 2015) and it is on target to reach its 60 per cent goal by the end of the year.

He said that the proportion of waste land-filled has dropped from 48 to 28 per cent (for the year ending March 31, 2015) and it is predicted to drop even further.

He explained that a forecast of a 12,000 tonne reduction in general waste per year will result in approximately a £1 million saving per year in residual waste disposal costs, based on current landfill costs.

“I think society is changing, we’re viewing waste less as waste and more as a resource. A lot of these materials have a value - companies buy paper, glass and cardboard off us. They’re not waste, they’re commodities with a value.

“For example, it is far cheaper to manufacture glass from recycled glass than it is from virgin sand.

“Recycling makes perfect sense. Why mine things from the ground when we have limited resources? Environmentally it makes sense, financially it makes sense.

“The cost of disposal is increasing so much that the landfill tax for example is currently sitting at £82.60 per tonne.

“As well as throwing money away, you’re throwing away things that could be recycled from an environmental perspective. I don’t see how anyone can say that recycling isn’t a good and justified thing to do. Compared with the cost of landfill or sending it to incineration, it is miles cheaper.

“The system has cost the council around £100,000 but when you compare that to the landfill costs, the recycling scheme is saving us money. The new system has had an impact and that means a lot less waste going to landfill or incineration,” he said.

Around 130,000 household bin collections are carried out per week in Angus, with approximately 70,000 tonnes of waste being uplifted.

Mr Dailly continued: “One of the controversial things we did is shrink the size of the general waste bin but the amount of waste collected from household general waste bins has reduced by approximately 40 per cent.

“We do offer a loan bin system, which we review annually. If you feel due to the size of your family or if you have a medical condition that generates waste, then you can apply for a larger bin.

“Rolling it out was a huge project and inevitably there were some issues in terms of human error that occurred where someone didn’t get their bin or misinterpreted the booklet we gave them to begin with, and some issues with items being put in the wrong bins. Sometimes we have vehicles break down.

“When you take a step back, it was a tiny percentage of the problems compared with the seven million bin collections we are doing a year, but if someone has an issue with their bin it doesn’t matter if everybody else is okay, you’ve got to deal with the problem they’ve got. But now the reports we have are very low numbers.”

Mr Dailly said one of the reasons the scheme has been so successful is thanks to the community.

He added: “I must say that the way the public have taken to it has been exceptional. Their participation has exceeded in some part what our expectation was.

“What is quite an important thing for us is the quality of the recycling. We accept that no-one is perfect, including us, and anyone could easily put something like a type of plastic that couldn’t be recycled or a food contaminated item in the recycling bins.

“Our processor has given us feedback and we’ve been below five per cent for contamination and the feedback is that we’re the joint best not just in Scotland but in the UK.

“Speaking with other local authorities, they can’t believe we keep that so low, and the primary reason is the public.

“Even before this system the people in Angus genuinely seemed to be very co-operative, willing to recycle and do the right thing.”

We went out with one of the 34 collection vehicles on one of their morning runs in Arbroath and not one recycle bin was tagged for contamination, and the bins were all three-quarters-full to full.

The main issue that recycling teams said they have is people putting wood and polystyrene in the bins - wood can be recycled at any of the Angus recycling centres, but polystyrene should be put in the purple bins.

Mr Dailly added: “We have taken the line from the word go that our staff will tag bins that are visibly contaminated and leave them.

“This caused some issues because people weren’t happy, especially if you’ve made a genuine attempt to do the right thing and we’ve left the bin. That has paid dividends now in such a low contamination rate.

“It is very important for us to keep that low as it has a financial impact; if it goes too high our processor recharges us, or you could get the whole load rejected. In my opinion, and maybe I am slightly biased, I think that it has been a huge success.”

Mr Dailly said there is room for improvement. He explained the council looked at 250 waste bins in September and another in February from a cross-section of homes in Angus and that only 50 per cent was actual waste - 30 per cent of the rubbish could have been put in the brown food bin, the remaining 20 per cent was made up of recyclable goods.