wasn’t the first item on the Places Scrutiny Agenda but perhaps it was the most
important; Bexley Council thinks it is time to make changes to its successful
recycling scheme. Out will go the wind blown boxes and in will come yet more wheelie bins.
The existing Serco contract expires at the end of March 2019 which provides an opportunity for fresh ideas.
Deputy Director David Bryce-Smith illustrated his comments with a slide presentation. The options available include setting up a local authority company, bringing the service back in-house and seeking a contractor again. Slide 4 shows what the other London boroughs are doing.
All of what follows are proposals which will be studied by a cross-party sub-Committee and some addresses, such as the 20,000 flats, would require different arrangements as they do now.
If wheelie bins replace collection boxes there will be two more, one for plastic, cartons, glass and tins and the other one for paper and cardboard. Both will change from weekly to fortnightly or even three weekly collection. The food and garden waste services will continue unchanged at weekly and fortnightly intervals respectively but the residual waste could switch to a three week cycle.
In the event of a three week cycle being chosen special provision would be made for nappies and incontinence pads.
Currently about half of the residual waste could be recycled and experience has shown that the glass boxes are almost never full. Glass collection is posing a Health & Safety issue because of the noise it creates when tipped into the collection truck. Mixing it with the plastic and cartons will reduce the noise impact.
A three weekly system would reduce the number of collections annually from 23·5 million to 13 million but each one would take longer. Tipping boxes into a big bin is a lot quicker than hitching a wheelie bin to a hoist. Estimates suggest that a three weekly schedule could increase the recycling rate by 5%.
The final idea is to move to a four (longer) day service which would avoid the Bank Holiday Monday problem and result in better loading of vehicles.At present they tend to return to base at the end of the day with their second load only half full. Such a change is not imminent but needs to be considered over the next three or four years.
Councillor Gareth Bacon (Conservative, Longlands) who was heavily involved in setting up the existing system said he would need to see all the calculations that have led to these proposals and any impact on fly tipping. He said the longer collection day was not introduced ten years ago because of the likely impact on early evening road traffic.
Councillor Val Clark (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) was concerned about the mixed message being sent to residents. The Council had spent years telling residents to separate paper, glass and plastic and tins and now it is saying it is OK to mix them up. She also thought, probably correctly, that a mixture of one, two and three weekly collections would make it impossible to remember which collection was next due.
Mr. Bryce-Smith said that the separation processes have improved since the present scheme was introduced and reminded Councillor Clark of the H&S issues with collection glass separately.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, Slade Green & Northend) didn’t think a three weekly cycle would be popular. He shared Councillor Clark’s concerns about confusing residents with no longer separating waste and made some suggestions for reorganising the recycling centres. Having made my very first visit to Thames Road depot two weeks ago I very much agree that improvements are needed there.
Chairman Melvin Seymour (Conservative, Crayford) was not enthusiastic about the prospect of a four day week for workers, it was a demanding occupation and that should not be underestimated.
Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) was critical of the way some residents are still putting more or less everything in the residual (green) bin and do not use their food waste bin. I think she has been poking her nose into some of my neighbours’ bins.
Vice-Chairman Nigel Betts did not agree with his Chairman, he thought a four day week would be an attractive proposition for the operatives but a three week cycle would be confusing and “it would put a lot off people off recycling because everything was just too complicated”.
Councillor Nicola Taylor (Labour, Erith) was another who believed that mixed intervals of up to three weeks would prove confusing and might increase the number of reports of missed bins. “Had those costs been factored in? Two weekly bin collections already cause overflowing and it increases street cleaning costs.”
Wheelie bins present problems for the disabled as they are heavy and more may not be helpful. She did not like the idea of some people having to put an identifiable incontinence bin outside their house. The Chairman thanked her for a good point well made.
Deputy Director Bryce-Smith said that he was not aware that other Councils which had adopted similar systems had seen an increase in the number of missed collections.
The sub-Committee will in due course reach its verdict and one must hope that all the best ideas are adopted.