‘Don’t blame Leeds residents for city’s recycling failures - the fault lies with the council itself’

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An opposition councillor has slammed a Leeds City Council plan to enforce better recycling habits - and improve the city’s falling recycling rates - by imposing fines on people who use their green wheelie bins wrong.

Councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dem group on the council, was speaking during a debate at today’s (Wednesday) monthly meeting of the authority’s executive board.

Speaking about the launch of a new hardline recycling strategy in Leeds last week - which could see people handed fines of up to £100 if they put non-recyclables in their green bin - he said decision-makers had “brushed over” a four per cent fall in recycling in the city overall, and “didn’t even mention that the [Cross Green] incinerator is now saving the council £7m a year in landfill costs”.

“The underperformance is effectively being blamed on the people of Leeds, because they are not doing things correctly - [but] the blame should be squarely with the council.

“Because with the money they are saving on the incinerator, they should be using that to enable our citizens to recycle better.”

He said the firm which processes Leeds’s green bin waste allows for a five per cent “contamination” rate of non-recyclables in green bins, but it’s “always been higher than that” in Leeds.

“And since alternate week collections were introduced, the contamination has increased from 13 per cent to 20 per cent,” he added.

“Each tonne of contaminated waste recovered by that company costs us £190, more than we would have paid in landfill tax. So we really do need to get on top of that.”

In a further stinging attack on the council’s approach, Coun Golton cited the example of his own ward of Rothwell, where brown bin collections for food waste were successfully introduced a few years ago.

The trial was never rolled out citywide as extra funding dried up.

“I really do think the council needs to think again,” Coun Golton said.

“Instead of saying to people ‘you just don’t get it’ - please work better.

“And instead of spending a quarter of a million pounds on sending out letters to people, or stickers on bins, the money should be reinvested in looking at how we can increase our recycling streams so our alternate week collections work properly.”

Neil Evans, director of environment at Leeds City Council, said separate food waste collections “remain the aspiration” for the city” but tight finances meant this had taken a back burner.

“Everything being equal I am sure these things would have been introduced,” he said.

“But those savings have gone into supporting key services around the authority. And I am not aware of any authority which has increased its recycling streams - some are even charging for brown bin and glass collections.”

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, the council’s executive board member for environment and sustainability, insisted the new approach was not about punishment, but about education.

“Recycling in the city is something we take very seriously and we always want to see improving,” she said.

“Although we have seen increases in kerbside recycling in the city, we do still have significant challenges, particularly encouraging people who don’t participate in recycling.

“So this sets out a staged approach, which will only as a very final resort look at enforcement action. But it’s putting particular emphasis on information and education - to work with individuals to improve practices where they are needed.

“Its fair to say most people in the city do recycle correctly, and use their green bin in the correct way, so this is certainly not targeting those individuals. It’s for those people who don’t use their green bins as a recycling instrument at all.”

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