Unbelievable Presentation on Blue Recycling Bins

A third, blue, bin is due to be introduced to Cambridge shortly.

A third, blue, bin for recyclable waste is due to be introduced to Cambridge shortly.

I attended Cambridge City Council’s South Area Committee on the evening of Thursday the 24th of September 2009. One of the items on the agenda was an update and Q&A on Cambridge’s new co-mingled recycling which will involve those who want to having their blue and black boxes replaced by a blue bin.

Cambridge’s Waste to be Sorted in Peterborough

Since the decision to mix recyclable waste in one bin was made Cambridge City Council has said that it was intending the mixed recyclable waste to be dealt with at the Donarbon Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) Facility at Waterbeach. This was what was reported to the January 2009 meeting of central scrutiny committee at which the decision to use the new system was made, and confirmed to the East Area Committee on the 3rd of September 2009 by Cambridge City Council’s Head of Environmental Services Jas Lally.

I was shocked to hear a different Cambridge City Council officer reporting to the South Area Committee on the 24th of September that the council had, in the last week, signed a contract with a company who is to sort the city’s recyclable waste in Peterborough. Not one of the councillors on the committee queried this. The officer said she had been to visit the plant.

Personally I think it is too crazy to be believable. I am writing this article, reporting what was said. I will write to the Executive Councillor responsible, Cllr Mike Pitt and will add any explanation given in the comments.

No Food Waste in Blue Bins

Another major change since the East Area Committee on the 3rd of September has been the council’s stance on food waste in the new blue bins. At the East Area Committee Jas Lally said that food waste could be placed in any of the black, blue or green bins. (It can be put in the black bin when it is the next to be collected) In response to the statement that food waste could be put in the blue bins a member of the public asked why the green bins could not be withdrawn. Mr Lally explained the reason for keeping the green bins was that the product from composting that was of high quality and it had been decided to keep a composting route open. He said that organic material placed in the blue bin could be easily separated and would still be reused but would not be composted.

However the South Area committee were told that it was important to keep food out of the new blue bins and ensure that items placed in them were clean. Cllr Taylor picked up on this comment and queried how clean food containers had to be, and how much food residue would be unacceptable. Where as Jas Lally had spoken about the process for dealing with and separating recyclable materials as being largely automated, Cllr Taylor received a reply saying that the process still involved people sorting the waste and if it came in dirty their first task would be to wash it. I was surprised at the degree of manual involvement being described.

Further Q&A from the Area Committees

Cllr Al Bander asked if the new multi coloured array of bins were expected to result in an increase in Anti-Social behavior, he asked if youths might play with them because they were brightly coloured. The council officer responding said they were not anticipating any problems, but hoped school children would go straight home from school and not come out again. (This wasn’t a joke, but an officer struggling to say something in response to a silly question).

Cllr Sanders asked if the council had given any thought to giving the recycling boxes which are no-longer going to be needed by houses to charities and to Addenbrookes to encourage them to do more recycling. Despite being a City Councillor and Cambridge residents placing dealing with waste as the top thing they want the City Council to be doing, Cllr Sanders appeared to have no idea that the council was not currently offering a recycling service (other than for cardboard and glass) to institutions. (Cllr Dryden said Addenbrookes incinerates all its waste and makes electricity out of it) University Halls and Schools are able to recycle more as their waste is considered domestic. Cllr Sanders’ question did prompt a statement from the officer saying the council was looking at providing a co-mingled collection to non-domestic addresses in the future.

I think these two questions above clearly show the poor quality of Liberal Democrat councillors; it is very rare that either Cllr Al Bander or Cllr Sanders make a contribution to a council meeting. I believe Cllr Sanders made her first contribution to a full council meeting in July 2009 having been elected about two years earlier 2007 (she prefaced her vacuous “me too” remark by saying “this is a first for me” and got a round of applause from her party colleagues).

The South Area Committee was told that people who paint their bins, eg. painting their green bin black, cause a problem for the council.

At the East Area committee there was confusion over if there was a system of opting in to the new Blue Bin or opting out of it. The committee was told that everyone in the East Area will be asked to make a decision on what they want. It took a lot of discussion to get to the answer that what is happening is officers are deciding what they think is appropriate for a particular street, then people are being given the option to opt the other way. So in the city there is both an opt-in and and opt-out system running but for a particular household only one or the other.

Collections to flats where there are containers for recycling lots of different types of waste won’t change. Where flats have multiple blue and black boxes they will be replaced by as many blue bins as are needed.

If there is going to be a problem with broken glass getting into paper and rendering it useless for recycling is a question which has been repeatedly asked since January. At the East Area Committee Jas Lally said “As part of the tender there was a focus on the quality of the final material, those who reprocess waste say that there is no issue over if the waste has glass in it or not”.

At the South Area committee the council officer warned that a hard line would be taken against those who put the wrong things in their blue bin. She warned that just because there was a lid, and items were not on show, inappropriate items could not be hidden in the new bins.

At the East Area a member of the public asked if any more bin lorries were needed, and was told no. When the same person asked what would happen to the old lorries used for kerbside recycling they were told they had come to the end of their lives.

10 responses to “Unbelievable Presentation on Blue Recycling Bins”

  1. I have written the below to Cllr Pitt:

    Cllr Pitt,

    I attended presentations on the new co-mingled recycling blue bins at both the East Area Committee on the 3rd of September and the South Area Committee last night. There were two significant points of disagreement between the presentations; I am writing to ask if you are able to clarify the situation and let me know what, if anything, has changed:

    1. On the 3rd of September Jas Lally said that food waste could, technically, be placed in the blue bin though that wasn’t what the council was proposing; he said that the technology was fantastic and separation was not a problem. He went as far as to say the only reason for keeping the green bin was because some people preferred composting, and composting wasn’t possible with mixed recycling. Last night however lots of stress was put on the importance of items in the blue bin being clean; the officer giving the presentation said that dirty items would be washed by hand.

    2. At the South Area committee the officer reported that a contract had been signed earlier this week which would result in Cambridge’s mixed recycling being processed in Peterborough. Prior to this presentation it had been strongly suggested the waste would be dealt with in Waterbeach.

    The South Area committee was told that the council was going to be tough on people who put the wrong things in their blue bins (the example given was anyone who put items in the blue bin in a black plastic bag); is this true? Is the council intending to step up enforcement action as the blue bins are rolled out?

    Richard Taylor

  2. How clean is clean?

    Do I have to wash the inside of Tetrapak cartons rather than just drain them?

    Does a 12″ pizza carton with a finger smear of tomato sauce on the inside count as dirty?

    How about paper kitchen towels which have been used for mopping spilled milk?

    Newspapers which have been left out in the rain? Plastic food trays with raspberry juice on the inside?

    How much water will all this extra, individual washing use?

  3. Brian, I was wondering the same thing as you, as I swill out my Tetrapaks but don’t want to waste water and fuel to wash them out thoroughly. The contents are often quite viscous and you can’t see inside.
    Tetrapak has been collecting its cartons from supermarkets for a couple of years now and they ask you to remove the plastic tops but say they can handle cleansing.

    Jen Robertson reported last night that some level of liquid spillage was acceptable. The recycling process for paper products involves adding water to turn the paper into pulp (as in the normal papermaking process), so any liquid residue should be well diluted in this process.

    I guess it’s a matter of degree as to how clean is clean but I hope you won’t find my last night’s snack in tomorrow’s newspaper!

  4. I would be very interested to hear what type of action the Council is planning to take against people who put the wrong items in the new blue bin.

    When my green bin was once considered “too heavy” by a ‘Refuse Team Leader’ the solution seemed to be that the bin would be left in the street until I removed some of its contents.

    Presumably if I had refused to empty the bin then I would have been committing some kind of offence by leaving rubbish in the street.

    By the way, the reason that my bin was “too heavy” was that there was too much soil attached to the weeds that I was recycling. No maximum weight was ever provided to me so I just have to hope it doesn’t happen again!

  5. David, I believe soil is deprecated for the green bins.

    Thanks Richard for highlighting this issue. I am concerned that waste might not be handled locally, shipping to Peterborough is not very ‘green’ is it?

    I am very careful to put the correct items in the green bin, I hope that clear instructions will be given for using the blue bin.

  6. At present the City Rangers give advice on what goes in which bins, but as far as I know, no penalties are proposed — as happens in some other councils.

    I’m sorry you had a bad experience with a full green bin. Taking some out isn’t very helpful, as it means you have even more green waste two weeks hence!

    Could I suggest that you contact one of the managers at the City Services depot if this happens again, or your local councillor? see http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/ccm/content/council-and-democracy/councillors/councillors-details.en

  7. I have now had a response from Cllr Pitt,

    Dear Richard,

    The contract to sort the waste has gone to a plant in Peterborough, but the waste will be bundled in Waterbeach. Prior to a couple of weeks ago it was anticipated that the waste would be bundled in Waterbeach but unknown where it would go to. This amounts to one extra round trip on the A14. The impact of the site location was included as a part of the tender.

    As to the other issue: the officers have different recollections to you of what was said. However there is scope for confusion.

    Food waste ideally goes in green bins. People can use black bin if it causes a problem (during the summer say).

    Food waste should not be put in the blue bin.

    The MRF can cope with some contamination but we need to keep this as low as possible as it can affect how much it costs the City and hence tax payers. The technology is amazing but it works best With no contamination.

    This leads to enforcement:

    We will use our usual education first approach, but we may charge people for the cost of dealing with a contaminated bin. This is £20 from memory, I will check. I doubt this will be used much.

    We will step up the information effort as the bins are rolled out and look out for problem areas.

    We will of course monitor the situation and make changes if needed.

    All the best,

    Mike Pitt
    City Councillor for King’s Hedges

  8. Ricky T, you cannot appear to spell properly. Unbelievable is not exactly a difficult word, especially for a man who boasts of his education by including a C.V. on his website (although that is more a desperate plea for a job, as clearly you have too much time on your hands…).

  9. Thanks for that.

    I have taken the superfluous “e” out of the title.

    It remains in the URL for anyone wanting to see where it was.

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