Putting the bins out is part of every Briton’s weekly routine, so, as Leeds City Council proposes fortnightly food waste collections, can the city make the cultural shift and start recycling more?
‘Change will work if people are educated’
Jonathan Straight is chief executive of Straight Plc, a Leeds-based company specialising in the creation of waste and recycling containers.
“I think it is only a positive move, but I also think that people need to be educated as to what they can and can’t put in recycling bins and exactly which bin they should put it in.
“There have been quite a few of changes in recent years in terms of what can go where. For example, not a lot of people now realise that you can now put aluminium foil in your recycling bin.
“And that’s quite important because if recycling is to be made into a viable alternative then people need to know the facts.
“I’ve worked with Kirklees Council before and they were very good at spending money on educating people about how to recycle - and as a result they got improved recycling figures. If this is to really work in Leeds then the local authority needs to do the same.
“Of course, there will always be some people who won’t be interested in dividing up their rubbish for recycling but even then, in the future, I think local authorities will be able to extract value from landfill sites, whether it’s through energy or extracting metals from refuse. But I think it’s just common sense to do it on a domestic level in the first place - it could save councils a huge amount of money.”
‘The test will come in the summer months’
Tim Briggs is senior lecturer in health and safety at Leeds Metropolitan University and president elect of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health.
“A lot depends on where they did the trial for this, because if they did it in a high-occupancy area which has a transient population, it might give them the wrong information.
“I think the test will come when things start getting overloaded and things spill onto the streets.
“For residents who do not care too much whether they put food waste in the general bin, that’s okay in the winter but in summer, you have to think: ‘That’s going to be standing there for two weeks’ and if it’s hot, it will have gone off by the second day.
“Then you have a health and safety risk because it may turn to liquid waste and that will attract flies and vermin.
“Another thing worth considering is that while people normally have pretty standard living patterns in terms of what they do and how many people live in a house and so on, at times like Christmas, when family members come to stay or children come home, the amount of waste increases exponentially.”
‘We’re taking the element of choice from tax payers’
Robert Oxley is campaign manager for the Tax Payer’s Alliance.
“Encouraging people to recycle is obviously a positive step but effectively forcing them to do so by reducing the quality of a service is much less positive.
“We all pay a lot of money to have our refuse collected, so why should we pay money for a lesser service? Local authorities will save a lot of cash through recycling, but that cash-saving is unlikely to get passed on to council tax payers in the form of lower council tax bills.
“Forcing people to have fortnightly bin collections is all well and good if you’re a single person or just a couple, but what if you have a family, or a particularly big family - what happens to all the waste you can’t recycle but can’t get rid of once a week? What choice do those people have?
“I think choice is very important here. People do, on the whole, want to recycle and they would choose to recycle, but they don’t want to feel forced into recycling. With the changes to bin collections what local authorities are effectively doing is creating a system whereby people can’t say ‘No’ - and yet we actually pay councils to carry out these services.”
‘Recycling rubbish is this decade’s success story’
Steve Lee is chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management.
“As a frontline service, waste is an important aspect of the relationship between a council and its residents.
“The priority when introducing any new collection scheme is that it is well designed, well communicated and includes appropriate support for those who need help or have special requirements. It is equally important to give clear messages about why recycling makes both environmental and economic sense.
“Where possible, the introduction of food waste collections is viewed as good practice when changing collection schemes, as collecting food weekly helps to address any hygiene concerns residents may have and maximises the amount of waste diverted from landfill.
“These developments reflect wider changes in the way waste is managed. We understand the earth’s resources are finite and our rubbish contains valuable materials and energy that can be put back to work – whether as the recycled paper fibre that makes up most of this newspaper or as bio-gas from food waste to heat our homes. Recycling is this decade’s success story.”
‘Loiners really want these changes’
Councillor Mark Dobson is executive member for the environment at Leeds City Council.
“I think this is something which most people in Leeds have wanted for some time and, in many ways, we are playing catch-up with public opinion here, not leading it.
“And we’re not reducing the service in Leeds we’re just mixing it up and providing a real alternative for people who want to recycle more.
“The changes will also be introduced in a measured way, area by area, so people can gradually get used to the changes. But, so far, I haven’t seen any great backlash to the proposals - if I am being honest, however, I did expect one. Yet it hasn’t happened.
“We are trying to be more ambitious as a local authority. We once talked about recycling about 40 per cent of Leeds’s waste by 2006 and 50 per cent by 2020. Now we want to achieve higher levels AND do it by the year 2016. But we’re already well on our way. In August, for example, we achieved a recycling target of 48 per cent - which is impressive. But I feel we can still do more and we’re already looking at allowing more goods into the recycling bin, things like Tetrapak drinks cartons and other packing. It’s simple stuff that makes a massive difference.”