BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 5 2001-10-11 Richard Boden (Wyecycle, Kent)

written evidence submitted in advance

250 kg and Independence

After more than a decade spent up to our elbows in Wye's waste, WyeCycle have finally achieved what we would probably all regard as the holy grail of the community waste sector; high levels of waste diversion underpinned by a self-financing system.

The cornerstone of WyeCycle's activities is a weekly kerbside collection from 1000 households in Wye and the neighbouring village of Brook. We started out collecting paper/cardboard, glass, tins/cans and textiles in 1989, and then added the much more exciting kitchen and garden organics a year later. This weekly service is supplemented by a monthly 'Swap Day' (second Saturday of the month), where the village hall becomes a free-for-all of residents depositing/acquiring all manner of re-usable items. Bulky materials such as white goods, timber, etc, are also collected on the Swap Day.

We have always tried to pay due regard to the 'other r's'. To this end we provide a refill scheme for household cleaning products, and continually send out the usual messages about using the milkman, cancelling junk mail, etc. For several years we have delivered veg boxes for a local organic farm, in recognition of the packaging waste thus eliminated. This concept of local food = less waste has recently been expanded into the twice-monthly Wye Farmers Market (1st and 3rd Saturday) where 15-20 local producers sell their fresh, healthy food with a fraction of the packaging found in supermarkets.

WyeCycle have always strongly believed that the key to funding such intensive levels of waste reduction activity is to get rid of the weekly 'bin day'. As far back as 1993 we tried to get council support for a trial into fortnightly refuse collections, and were told this could take place so long as 100% of residents were in support. On the estate we surveyed a measly 93% of households agreed to such a trial, so the idea was put on hold. However, with every passing year the inevitability of mandatory waste reduction targets has become more apparent. So much so that for the last 12 months half the households in Wye and Brook have only seen the bin men once a fortnight. The money thus saved by the district council - a collection credit - is paid to WyeCycle in addition to the more widely recognised disposal credit from the county council. The carrot offered to residents to encourage their acceptance of this reduced frequency of collection is a wheeled bin (120 litre); the standard waste collection service in the Ashford Borough is based on black sacks. The gradual expansion of fortnightly refuse collections will see all 1000 households on our patch on the system by the end of 2001.

Mistakes; we've made a few .... and the biggest one of all was to introduce our garden material collection as being free at the point of delivery. The two principal problems with this are: 1. Home composting is discouraged, as it is too easy for residents to put all their garden material out for a 'free' collection. 2. The service is not free at all, but actually a highly regressive form of taxation. Big houses produce substantially more garden material than little houses; certainly proportionally more than any differential in the waste collection element of the council tax accounts for. This means that any garden material collection which is provided free as part of the overall waste management regime results in the poor (typically too busy earning a living to do more than mow the lawn on a Sunday) subsidising the rich (who are increasingly turning the generation of garden waste into a full time occupation in their early retirement).

To remedy this we have introduced a tagging system, whereby each bag or bag sized bundle of garden material must have a WyeCycle tag tied to it in order for it to be collected. The tags are luggage labels stamped with 'WyeCycle', and are on sale at two shops at either end of Wye. Whilst introducing the tagging system after ten years of collecting garden material free of charge has inevitably drawn some protest, we are now operating a far fairer system, encouraging home composting and generating useful income.

Which leads to the crucial issue of financial self-sufficiency. In order to operate our weekly kerbside collections and monthly Swap Day (the Farmers Market, veg box deliveries and refill scheme are self-financing) we need to raise �1 per household per week, ie �52,000 a year.

Once both the tagging system and fortnightly refuse collections have been extended to all 1000 households, this �52,000 will be generated as follows:

Recycling (disposal) credits: 600 t @ �40/t � 24,000
Fortnightly (collection) credits: 1000 Hhs @ 55p/Hh/fortnight � 14,300
Garden tags: 20,000/yr @ 25p � 5,000
Sales: recyclate, compost � 8,700
Total � 52,000

Weighings of residual waste put out for the (fortnightly) refuse collection have shown average waste production to be 250 kg/Hh/yr. Clearly there are wide variations within this average, with those households who struggle to fill a 120 litre bin over a fortnight being balanced out by those for whom every day must be like Christmas judging from the sheer volume of packaging waste they continue to generate.

Indeed, it is the composition of this 250 kg - and specifically the myriad of disposable, one trip, multi-material packaging - which demonstrates the limits to our capabilities. There is no way in which we can break this 250 kg barrier without legislation at a national level on a whole range of issues from non-returnable bottles and polystyrene egg boxes to plastic shrink wrap on mail and disposable nappies. Which leads to the inevitable question at the heart of all our woes; does Government really want to achieve sustainable waste/resource management (and sustainability itself), or are the blood ties with big business just too strong?