Bridgend Bin Changes: Questions Remain Unanswered

As anyone reading this from Bridgend will be aware, just before Christmas, Bridgend Council (BCBC) launched a public consultation on potentially controversial changes to rubbish collection in the county.

Why change?

According to statistics from Stats Wales, in 2014-15 57.1% of waste produced in the county was recycled (equivalent to more than 30,000 tonnes). This is above the Welsh average, but many local authorities now out-perform Bridgend when, until recently, BCBC had one of the best recycling rates in Wales.

Stricter Welsh Government targets under the Waste Measure 2010 mean it’s likely Bridgend will hit the recycling target for 2015-16 (58%) but miss longer-term targets for 2019-20 (64%) and 2024-25 (70%) – see also : Womble Nation. If Bridgend misses these future targets they’ll be liable to fines of up to £200 for every extra tonne of waste not recycled, which could cost BCBC £100,000 if they miss the targets by just 1%.

Therefore, BCBC have put forward several changes to rubbish collections in order to encourage households to recycle more and have asked residents for their views.

What’s proposed?

Changes to black bag collections – At the moment, black bag/landfill waste is collected fortnightly. BCBC put forward three options :

  1. Maintain fortnightly collections, but households will only be able to put out two black bags.
  2. Change to black bag collections every three weeks, with households restricted to putting out three black bags.
  3. Black bag collections once every four weeks/once a month, with households able to put out an unlimited number of black bags.

Nappy and sanitary product recycling– This isn’t explained in any detail, but it would be introduced alongside any reduction in the number of black bags or black bag collections. By the sounds of it, households would have to sign up specially.

Restrict black bag dumping at local refuse sites
– Some local recycling centres (as they’ll be re-branded) will only collect recyclable materials, meaning residents would no longer be able to dispose of black bag/household waste there without checking for recyclables first.

BCBC say they’ll consider introducing wheelie bins to deal with black bag storage problems….but this comes at a cost.

BCBC also admit that in parts of the county where rubbish collections are done communally instead of at the kerbside (due to street layouts – like Wildmill – or flats) restrictions on black bags per household would be hard to enforce.

If they move to monthly black bag collections, BCBC wouldn’t need to consider these issues which would save them money as well as, hopefully, encouraging recycling because households will have to think carefully about what they throw out.

Any changes would come into effect from April 2017.

Conclusions

The current waste collection system is working relatively well and there’s a danger that a lot of the public goodwill that’s built up over the last decade towards recycling in Bridgend will start to evaporate.

This whole thing comes across as a knee-jerk approach and PR failure by BCBC as they simply haven’t given residents enough detail to make a proper judgement – despite a reasonable attempt at a Q&A in the Glamorgan Gazette. For example, would there be fines for putting out too many black bags if their use is restricted? Or would rubbish collectors simply refuse to take more than two/three from each household? You can foresee the arguments as people sneak excess bags outside neighbouring homes.

The wording of the consultation and resulting unanswered questions give the impression BCBC are trying to push people towards favouring monthly black bag collections as a “least worse option”. That shouldn’t be a problem for smaller/all-adult households, but for families with young children – of which there are a high number in Bridgend – things could get nasty, even with nappy recycling.

I understand why they’re doing this, and it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Perhaps unlimited black bag collections every three weeks could be used as a compromise, with monthly collections phased in after a few years once households get used to the idea.

Public fears over rat problems are misplaced though. Rats look for food, and that can be recycled and collected weekly in the brown bins. There shouldn’t be a problem.

The real problem is the list of what can and can’t be recycled is lengthy, with several different options depending on the type of waste.

Many things – like certain types of packaging (crisp packets, plastic wrappings) simply can’t be recycled. From my own experience it’s this type of waste that fills black bags. In addition, BCBC have sent out confusing messages – Kier’s bin lorries have big posters on the side saying spray cans can go in the blue bag, but BCBC’s website says they don’t take them.

It would be a good idea for BCBC to provide the hard evidence (they cite Fife Council in Scotland) that suggests monthly black bag collections (or restrictions on the number of black bags households can put out) boost recycling rates towards 70% and don’t just simply manipulate waste collection figures to beat the fines or cut costs.

Peter Black AM (Lib Dem, South Wales West) has also raised concerns about flytipping, which has reportedly increased by 58% in the county since 2012

Other local authorities have managed to improve recycling rates whilst retaining fortnightly black bag collections, like Denbighshire and Monmouthshire (limited to 2 bags). Denbighshire has the highest recycling rate in Wales – and although BCBC are keen to provide examples of other councils who’ve changed their rubbish collection policies, for some reason they don’t mention this little fact.

Owen