Decision made on move to commingled recycling

As expected Hackney's cabinet decided to accept the recommendation from the recycling team to move to commingled recycling collections, starting next spring.  This will mean an end to the green box collections and the introduction of recycling sacks instead.  Instead of being sorted by hand at the roadside the recycling will be sorted by machine at Bywaters MRF (Material Recycling Facility) in Leyton.

The publicity for the move got under way even before the decision was made with a double-page spread in Hackney Today.  Sustainable Hackney had called for public consultation on the change, and it came in the form of a visit to the Bywaters MRF in Leyton, and a Q&A with the cabinet member and the Hackney recycling team.  Four supporters of Sustainable Hackney attended the tour.

  1. The tour and the Q&A satisfied us that the MRF has relatively low reject rates of less than 5%, and produces reasonably good quality material. We also received assurances that exports of contaminated waste are uneconomic.  A trial in Cazenove ward achieved an increase of 26% in the weekly tonnage collected, and this appears to have been maintained.
  2. The Q&A made it clear that the team feels that recycling sacks are the only way to reach many households in Hackney which aren't suitable for the green box collection.  However, no serious consideration has been given to retaining kerbside sort and adding a commingled collection, possibly combined with residual waste or another service.
  3. An exchange of letters confirms that commingling is expected to increase recycling rates from 25% to 27.7% across the borough, diverting an additional 2,065 tonnes per year of waste from disposal to recycling.  The council has made a "prudent extrapolation" that the change will reverse declining tonnages and lead to annual increases of 1%, achieving 34% by 2020.  We have questions about whether the resources for community engagement and public education will be maintained and increased to deliver these increases.
  4. There will be a significant impact on quality of recycling with 2,700 tonnes of glass per year diverted from bottle making to road materials.  We estimate that this will have a negative impact on carbon emissions of 700 tonnes CO2e per year.  The council claims that this impact will be offset by carbon savings from the increase in recycling tonnage.  We have questions about the way this has been calculated and whether it includes the impact of the change in collection method as well as the quality of recycling.
  5. The change will be accompanied by bringing  the service in-house, which will be cheaper to operate, as well as providing profit share from sales of recycling through the MRF gate fees, something that is not available under the current contract with May Gurney.  The financial case combines the savings from commingling, from bringing the service in house, and from future increases in recycling so it is not possible to examine the impact of these changes separately.  The financial case for bringing kerbside sort in house has not been examined.

Further questions

We've written today to the council to follow up on our questions and to raise two more issues.

  • What plans does the council have to increase the recycling rates for non-household waste?  In 2010 Hackney generated 40,000 tonnes of non-household waste and less than 3% of it was recycled.
  • We are seeking a commitment to timely reporting of quarterly waste data as well as statistics so that we can see what is happening to Hackney's waste and track performance.

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Comment by Sustainable Hackney on August 22, 2012 at 11:02

Hackney's latest published recycling rate is for 2010/11.  In May we asked Hackney to publish regular waste and recycling data so we can see how the borough is doing.  The answer we got was that Hackney will "consider" publishing the figures.

We can now access a data source called Wastedataflow, and so we can publish the figures before Hackney does!  See our waste data page.

Comment by James Diamond on August 22, 2012 at 10:17

Interesting to note that DEFRA has put forward proposals requiring separate collection of metals, plastics, paper and glass from January 2015.  Separate collection will be required where practical and necessary to meet quality standards for reprocessing.  The changes were necessary after a legal challenge.

Much debate will now ensue about practicality and quality standards.  It is unlikely that these changes will mean an end to co-mingled collections.

Comment by Diana Weir on May 9, 2012 at 14:25

Terrific work!

Personally, I prefer the green box system but then, I read and follow the instructions and have carefully noted what additions are allowed over time. My neighbours don't seem to be able to comprehend what's allowed and what isn't at all - no matter how I try to help - so they might recycle more using commingling.

I don't see why the Council can't use both, each where it's the most efficient system and both done in-house so as cost-efficiently as possible. Hadn't realised it was outsourced at present because the collecting lorries and the personnel uniforms are covered with Hackney insignia...!

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