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Agenda item

Overview of Household Waste Management


The Committee considered the report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change that provided an overview of the management of household waste in County Durham.


The Head of Environment was in attendance to present the report and deliver a presentation that provided Members with the big picture and the Hierarchy, Economy and Operations together with details of waste reduction campaigns; encouraging reuse; what happens to your recycling; the challenge of contamination; garden waste 2020: energy from waste; other collection services; safety and policy; the impact of COVID-19 and details of the last decade, now and the next decade (for a copy of the report and presentation, see file of minutes).


Members were advised that there is now greater concern about what happens to our waste with a focus on reduction, reuse and recycling. It was highlighted that recycling should be built into the lifecycle of products as this will lead to economic benefits and Members were provided with data in relation to the resource within the County Council.


It was highlighted that nationally we throw away about a third of the food we buy and in county Durham there are love food hate waste campaigns, smarter shopping and home composting to reduce the amount of food waste thrown away. The service highlights the importance of reuse and has a very successful programme with Durham University on the Green Move Out scheme where students leaving donate any of the household goods, they are leaving behind rather than throwing them away. Other schemes promoting reuse include single use plastics; water refill scheme; furniture reuse schemes; the reuse shop at Stainton Grove HWRC; the community fridge and HWRCs do have elements of reuse.


The Head of Environment highlighted that in relation to recycling some of the recycling material can be used to form raw materials that form new cans and cartons within six weeks of being recycled. The greatest challenge in terms of recycling to the service is contamination of bins therefore it is very important that householders know what can and cannot be recycled and the service has addressed this with the bin it right and recycling matters campaigns.


It was emphasised that this year the materials from the garden waste collections are being composted in house.


The residual waste is taken to an energy from waste plant where it is turned into energy for 39000 homes, this contract will continue until 2025. As of June 2020, Durham County Council had diverted 96.8% of residual waste from landfill. Also, it was recently announced that a joint North East Council procurement to treat waste.


The Head of Environment stressed the importance of keeping the workforce safe and ensuring that the vehicles have all the necessary safety equipment. Also highlighted was the range of policies in place to assist residents in relation to collections.


Members received data from the first lockdown that indicated the increase of waste (17.3%) and recycling (24.8%) collected compared to last year but unfortunately there was also contamination of 34.18%. As we were currently in a second lockdown, Christmas was approaching and most were ordering gifts on line and this could lead to greater amounts of recycling being collected.


The impact of COVID-19 on the service had seen waste and recycling collections prioritised, there was an initial suspension of the garden waste collections but reinstatement on Saturdays and Mondays and there was a 5.6% increase in the numbers using this service. Staff from other services such as Highways and Leisure services were re deployed to work alongside collectors. Initially HWRCs closed and bulky waste collections stopped but both were back operating now; the majority front line staff were back at work and office based staff were working from home. Extra resource was required to support main crews in relation to garden waste.


In looking forward to the next ten years the Head of Environment advised that there was still the issues associated with COVID; the competitive dialogue with the multi authority waste treatment procurement would be happening soon; future saving pressures; aging workforce; ensuring there is a lower emission fleet and establishing a viable circular economy. Additionally, the government’s Our waste, our resources: strategy for England could see potentially mandatory food waste collections and potentially mandatory garden waste collections.


The Chair thanked the Officer for his presentation and commented on the extensive range of services provided and that they were well run, very efficient and very effective and very important to communities. He then referred to the HWRCs and was concerned about the contamination levels as there appeared when he visited his local HWRC that there was no separation or segregation of waste and what was the cost to the council.


The Officer responded that the contamination referred to in his presentation was from the contents of household recycling bins. This figure had now reduced and could be attributed to the pressure that some households were under during the lockdown period when the residual bin was full, they were resorting to using the recycling bin. A lot more promotion work was being carried out by Roving recyclers and the crews were also focusing on collections and were now looking at contamination procedures. In relation to HWRCs, when they reopened some of the supply chains were in a mixed position and did not have the outlets they previously had; some of their staff were furloughed and in order to get people through the HWRC as quickly as possible meant that the usual separation of materials did not occur and they were not able to recycle as much as they could.


Councillor Brown noted that the presentation was timely and referred to an article in the Guardian about carbon emissions from energy from waste plants stating that because of the incineration of waste the UK will not be able to meet its commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and asked if the chimneys at the Suez plant had filters.


Councillor Coult asked when garden waste boundaries would be reviewed as she had a number of rural areas who were currently unable to benefit from the scheme. She then referred to food wastage and asked what the council could do to get the message across to manufactures to look at the volume of food that gets wasted and to look at the type of packaging.


Councillor Milburn asked if there was a mechanism for residents to request a smaller residual waste bin.


In response to the questions, the Head of Environment highlighted that using the waste to energy plant was a last resort in the waste hierarchy and would encourage recycling. The Government’s waste strategy would see a lot less materials going through to incineration, mechanisms such as the deposit scheme referred to in the strategy would mean less waste going through to incineration. He suggested that the Strategic Waste Manager would be able to provide a response to Councillor Brown regarding CO2 emissions at the energy to waste plant outside of the meeting.


There was annual review of garden waste to assess how the year had gone and take onboard any lessons learnt also they needed to determine if they were going to continue with the garden waste collections on a Saturday and Monday or revert to the normal collection days. The boundaries were set in terms of efficiency but if they could be extended to further properties they would. With regard to food waste the service does what it can, with the likes of community fridges and promoting the OLIO food sharing app. The service was encouraged that there were points within the Government waste strategy that limits supermarkets on their promotions such as buy one get one free offers and if the government’s strategy is fully implemented this will reduce packaging.


In relation to Councillor Milburn’s question regarding requests for smaller bins the Officer advised that the 240ml bins were used as this fits with most households and added that the service would explore this further, if there was an opportunity to swap bins for a smaller bin, they would look at this being done through the self-serve system.


The Chair asked if the response with regard to emissions from the energy plant could be circulated to all members of the committee.


Councillor Dunn referred to the green recycling plant at Joint Stocks that was located in his division and highlighted an area of concern for residents relating to the compression of the garden waste collection and shredding into Saturdays and Mondays and a breakdown of the odour control system. Officers worked on the introduction of a temporary odour compression system until a permanent solution was sourced. He was advised that since this had happened and he had not had any recent reports of issues but one of his constituents who lived close to the site had been informed that the new system was not working and wouldn’t completely compress the odour issues particularly if there was an easterly wind and asked for assurances that the new system was now working or over the winter the necessary changes would be put into place.


The Officer indicated that the new system was now working, and they had been some issues with odour which was magnified due to collections taken place on Saturdays and Mondays. They were learning in relation to wind conditions and temperatures and cease the operations where necessary. They were hoping to return to Tuesday to Friday garden waste collections that would help reduce the impact and allow lower volumes of turnover on the site.


Councillor Sexton referred to the cost of the garden waste scheme and asked if consideration could be given to those residents who could not afford the scheme.


The Officer indicated that for low volumes of garden waste the service advocate a home composting bin and offer a subsidised priced bin. They recognised that this would not suit everyone but this was the most environmentally friendly way to deal with garden waste rather than transporting for composting. The service were happy to encourage neighbours to share the garden waste bins. The Government has indicated in its Resources and Food Waste Strategy the introduction of free garden waste collections and this would have potentially significant impact, as it would increase from 65,000 customers to potentially 150,000 customers including the cost of all the receptacles involved. The Government had indicated that should this be introduced then councils would be recompensed for the service. The council would abide by the government decision but would have a loss of income and the added cost of collection throughout the county.


Resolved: That the contents of the report be noted.

Supporting documents:


Democratic Services
Durham County Council
County Hall
County Durham
03000 269 714