What a waste!

A friend told me of a surprising find in a skip at local recycling centre. Sitting in a skip was, as far as he could tell, a perfectly serviceable Moog Synthesiser 1962 vintage. The sort played by Kraftwerk he thought. I’d seen one played by Keith Emerson in ELP at Trentham Gardens in 1971- but the less said about that the better. The point is that here seemed to be a possibly functioning piece of kit, which could fetch around £1000. My friend pleaded with the manager to let him have the Synthesiser. Continue reading

Is Lack Of Communication Responsible For Poor Recycling Rates In Stoke-on-Trent?

Hidden away in a press release informing residents of Stoke-on-Trent of changes to bin collections days over the festive period, if you read past the dates, you will see that cardboard can no longer placed in to brown bins.

Almost as an after thought the couple of lines reads

Residents are also being advised that from Monday 2 January 2012 they will no longer be able to dispose of cardboard in their brown bin. After this date people will need to put cardboard in their blue bin. If a brown bin contains cardboard after January 31 2012 the owner will receive a contamination notice and their bin will not be emptied.

These changes are due to a change in the quality standard of compost which can be adversly affected by the presence of printed cardboard. In light of the change in quality standards, in July the company which takes compostable waste from Stoke-on-Trent City Council informed the counil that they would no longer be accepting cardboard.

While Stoke-on-Trent City Council, pass this important information on to residents almost as an after thought, other councils who use the same company for the compostable waste have taken more high profile action to make sure their residents are aware of the changes.

Derbyshire Dales District Councils delivered leaflets to the 33,000 homes across the Dales back in August explaining that cardboard material be transferred from the compostable waste collection into the dry recycling collection.

Staffordshire Moorlands Cabinet met and agreed to begin communicating the changes to residents via leaflets to all households and roadshows  around the area with Moorlands Radio back in September.

In Stoke-on-Trent some 86,000 (76%) of households  are on the enhanced recycling scheme with grey, blue & brown bins and have had no communication about where their cardboard needs to go other than those few lines in the press release.

As for the rest of the city who have a small green box for glass and metal and a blue bag for paper. There is no mention anywhere about cardboard recycling if you are not on the enhanced scheme. In fact the instructions on the side of the green box make it very clear that you are not to put cardboard in this box. The What Can I put In My Bin page on the council website backs up this instruction not to put cardboard in your green box.

Then the Changes To Your Recycling Collections page on the council website says you can leave cardboard with your green bin.

So what do you do with plastics  if you don’t have a blue bin? Well according to the What Can I Put In My Bin page, if you don’t have a blue bin then all you can do is put it in the waste for incineration or landfill.

But if you phone the council and speak to someone in the enviromental directorate you will find out that you can in-fact put plastics in your green box as well as cardboard.

We have reported many times in the past about how poor the recycling rates are in the city and questioned the recycling method but this is something far simpler, it is just a case of providing information to people.

If you are on the enhanced recycling scheme it is easy as you have 3 bins, if your not on this scheme and only have the green box and blue bag, the chances are you have been putting plastic and cardboard in with the household waste for incineration which is why according to council figures, 51% of our household waste still goes to the incinerator and 10% to landfill.

Thanks to Ian Norris for providing some of the information in this post

More Awards For Newcastle Borough Council’s Recycling Scheme

News reaching us from our next door neighbours in Newcastle this morning, shows that Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council have been awarded a second national award for recycling.

It seems they have won the Local Authority of the Year award at the National PAWR (Plant and Waste Recycling) Awards 2011.

The Local Authority Of The Year category recognises a local authority that has developed and implemented a successful recycling and waste strategy that demonstrates an increase in recycling uptake and the innovative way waste is processed.

The council’s entry told the story of how its new service, introduced to 53,400 households, has increased its kerbside recycling rates from 27 per cent to over 50 per cent in just over a year while saving £500,000.

Winning a second national recycling award is really fantastic news. The accolade of “Local Authority of the Year” really does set us apart from other Councils.
This recognition is testament to the hard work being carried out in delivering this front line service but it wouldn’t be possible without borough residents, who have really taken on recycling.

As we are unfortunately aware here in Stoke-on-Trent, the recycling and waste service used by Newcastle Borough was designed to meet Government targets for reducing the amount of waste sent to be incinerated. In fact it is almost identical to the one presented to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, who ignored the report and decided to use a different system that is already struggling to meet government targets.

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council National Recycling Champions

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is celebrating this afternoon after scooping a national award for its new recycling and waste service.

The borough council has beat off stiff competition from unitary councils and a waste disposal authority to win the Waste Management Award at the Government Business Awards.

The category highlights outstanding schemes that are cost-effective, provide a high level of service and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

The council’s service ““ which has increased recycling rates from 27 per cent to 50 per cent ““ was up against schemes run by Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority, London Borough of Hillingdon, Peterborough City Council and Hull City Council.

In July 2009, plastic bottles and cardboard were added to the fortnightly recycling collection and a year later, weekly food waste collections were launched along with the extension of the fortnightly garden waste service to all homes with a garden.

Today’s announcement was made at Twickenham Stadium by BBC journalist and news presenter Bill Turnbull.

It comes on the same day as a report published by The TaxPayers’ Alliance which outlines the number of bins each council in the country collects and singles out the borough council for having nine containers.

I’m delighted and very proud that Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council’s service has won this national award, especially as we were the only district council in the category and have today been unfairly criticised by The TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Our new system ““ supported by WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) ““ is designed to produce the best quality material for recycling and has already produced dramatic results, while delivering £500,000 of savings.

I would like to dedicate this award to our residents who have clearly embraced recycling and also our members of staff and contractors Acumen Distribution, Lower Reule Bioenergy and Simpro for providing an excellent service.

The service improvements were designed to meet Government targets for reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill.

Food waste is sent to an anaerobic digestion plant at Lower Reule Farm in Stafford where it is turned into electricity to power local homes and heat to grow strawberries.

And garden waste such as twigs, grass and leaves is turned into high quality compost for use on local farms.

Kerbside Sort Recycling The Way Forward

A report commissioned for the Welsh Assembly which was published yesterday has shown that Kerbside Recycling Consistently Out Performs other forms of recycling.

The “ËœKerbside Collection Options: Wales’ study was commissioned by WRAP on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government.

Six local authorities, 2 for each of the commingled, twin-stream and kerbside sort methods of recycling were studied for the report.

Kerbside sort recycling has a number of benefits over the commingled process, the costs of kerbside sort are lower, this is in part due to the fact that recyclables do not need to be sent to a handling facility and recyclable materials collected and sorted at the kerbside have a higher value.

The report noted that commingled collections grossed higher tonnages at collection but due to lack of sorting, the amount of materials rejected by the processors made differences in the final tonnages vs those of kerbside sort marginal.

According to the report, the advantages of kerbside sort recycling appear to increase as recycling performance increases.

Kerbside sort recycling is how Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council have eclipsed their 2015 recycling targets already, while our own Stoke-on-Trent City Council are at 40% with little in the way of options to improve this figure.

The current collection methodology should not prevent the Authority from achieving the 50% recycling target, though a final roll out of enhanced recycling to all residents and improved participation will be necessary.

Unfortunately Stoke-on-Trent looks pretty stuck with the recycling option it has decided on. The one thing you can be sure of it will be the residents who have to do more work as part of the improved participation, don’t be surprised if in coming years, we start to see fines or charges being enforced against people who do not recycle enough or correctly.

The council have made our bed and now we have to lie in it, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council Nominated For Recycling Award

While Stoke-on-Trent City Council are languishing around the 40 % mark for recycling, our close neighbours Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council have increased their rates from 27% in 2009 to more than 55% per cent in November 2010 and have been nominated for the Waste Management Award at the Government Business Awards 2011 as a result

Researchers have been looking at all collection and disposal authorities across the country to find “outstanding” schemes that are cost-effective, provide a high level of service and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

As well as Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority, London Borough of Hillingdon, Peterborough City Council and Hull City Council have all been shortlisted for the award, the winner of which will be announced at Twickenham Stadium on Thursday, 17 February by BBC journalist and news presenter Bill Turnbull.

I’m delighted that we have been singled out nationally for best practice in waste management.

Recycling in Newcastle has been revolutionised. We have an efficient scheme that separates materials at the kerbside which means everything is turned into new products.

But this recognition is not possible without the effort of residents, who have really embraced recycling.

Newcastle are already eclipsing the recycling figure that Stoke-on-Trent hope to be able to achieve by 2015. Questions about recycling here in Stoke still remain unanswered after Pits n Pots were forced down the FOI route, despite the head of directorate Jane Forshaw saying she would happily answer any questions about the recycling service in Stoke-on-Trent

Blue Bins For The Enhanced Recycling Scheme Purchase Or Lease That is The Question

After doing some further investigation in to the Enhanced Recycling trial we have turned up yet another anomaly with the blue bins that leads us to believe the Elected Members were not furnished with the full facts when scrutinising the results of the Enhanced Recycling trial.

The EMB appear to have nodded the Enhanced Recycling Scheme through at the meeting 3 December 2008 only to have it called in by the Improving Communities Overview & Scrutiny committee on 24 December.

The O&S Committee approved the recycling trail with the following recommendations

  1. that following the train and before consideration of the rolling out of the enhanced recycling scheme, a detailed and evidence based evaluation of the trail be submitted to a future meeting of the committee
  2. that all members are kept informed of the relevant progress, reports and meetings are given formal opportunity to participate and give feedback

On 21 May 2009 the O&S Committee sat and heard the the detailed evidence based evaluation of the trial (all 6 pages of it) from Interim Assistant Chief Executive Mike Maunder and other officers.

that he had concerns with regard to the Executive Summary of the report and questioned whether the recyclable value was being maximised and why we needed to wait until the end of the year in order to ascertain the financial aspects of the scheme as he felt that an independent assessment should be carried out immediately. He felt that the decision to go down this route had been decided before the trial was even undertaken and that, even though there was no going back from this position, he was still not convinced that it was the most appropriate way to deal with the issue. He felt that a number of issues had not been given due consideration such as the cost of kerbside versus co-mingled collection and that no detailed analysis of cost had been undertaken. He asked what independent assessment of the current system had taken place and asked whether it was proposed to have one in the future.

Indicated that details of the savings etc. had been set out in the report which had been considered as part of the call-in. He indicated that it had been understood at the start of the trial that there would be a large take up but what was uncertain was the subsequent level of “tail off” that would occur. At the end of the year it would be possible to give members a better feel for that in terms of the trial areas. In addition, the other uncertainty was regarding the value of recyclables, which had therefore not been incorporated into the budget arrangements.
In response to a previous question about the costs associated with the provision of bins etc., he indicated that this had been part of a leasing arrangement and that it had been clear that as part of this agreement that, if we did not make this provision we would not have been in a position to proceed with enhanced recycling this year. If the trial had not been successful, we would have been able to recover the money for the bins because of the current national demand for them.

Which appears to indicate that he was telling the O&S Committee that the blue bins were leased rather than purchased which is in direct opposition to what Jane Forshaw said in her interview with Pits n Pots and which has been confirmed by the council, that the bins were indeed purchased.

So the question is, were to O&S committee able to make a qualified decision on the Enhanced Recycling trial without being aware of the full facts?

The O&S Committee members at the meeting were:

  • David Conway – Chair
  • Randolph Conteh – Vice Chair
  • Michael Barnes
  • Michael Coleman
  • Rita Dale
  • John Daniels
  • John Davis
  • David Sutton

The WRAP report commissioned in 2007 which was as far as we can tell ignored and not put before the EMB at the time was also mentioned in the meeting by one of the officers present.

In terms of the independent report, the national organisation WRAP had carried out a review.

Image used under license

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Enhanced Recycling – UPDATED


Following on from the investigation by George Harvey in to the true costs of the Enhanced Recycling scheme operated by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Pits n Pots sent a copy of the article to the city council asking for a response, the following statement was sent

We are very proud of the achievements we have made in increasing recycling rates in the city. In fact our recycling rates have doubled in the past four years and the feedback we get from members of the public is that the system is easy to use and that they feel more compelled to recycle as a result. The new recycling system has allowed us to reach the 40% recycling targets set down by the government in 2007. In choosing which system to adopt, we had to balance the ease of use for the residents, the level of recycling we would achieve and the cost which would best support both. Materials recycled in Stoke go to plants all over the country and the resultant products are used all over the world, and around 99% of what goes into the recycling bins is reused in some way.

Given the nature of the allegations raised in the investigation we did not feel that a suitable response had been made and have asked the following questions:

It does not however, answer ANY of the issues raised in the article. I would therefore request an urgent response to the specific questions below:

  1. Given the Council appointed WRAP to advise on measures to increase recycling in the City to achieve recycling targets laid down in legislation why was this report not made available to the portfolio holder and subsequent cabinet member and the the elected members of the council?
  2. Why were the ‘blue’ bins ordered before the trial? Why did they not go through the normal tendering process? Why did officers insist that blue bins were needed when the WRAP report indicated that they were no additional requirement for wheelie bins? Why did an officer of the council order these bins at a cost of £1.6million without the approval of the council executive i.e the EMB at the time?
  3. Why was the contractor responsible for the existing recycling scheme told that he contract will terminate in April 2009, before the trials?
  4. It appears that a particular Council Officer decided unilaterally to terminate the kerbside recycling contract BEFORE the enhanced recycling trial, orders bins for the whole City BEFORE the trial, buries the WRAP report which is never seen by Cllrs and WRAP are not allowed to present it to them. The WRAP conclusions are then later doctored by the same officer and the City as a result has spent £1.6 million it didn’t need to spend on wheelie bins it didn’t need and issued a 10 year contract to Vital Earth in Ashbourne when a firm based in Stoke was capable of providing this service. Will the CEO and the Council Leader hold an internal investigation into the conduct of this officer and a strategic review of the processes adopted in this matter and investigate whether there is a case of misconduct?
  5. Will the council now accept, that based on the evidence now before them, that they misled the public about there being £1million of savings? Will there be any action taken in relation to the fact that not only were there not savings of £1million but there were £3,498,170 of costs NOT budgeted for?

We would like to formally request an audio interview with the CEO John van de Laarschot and Council Leader Mohammed Pervez in the absence of suitable written responses to the above questions.

We also request a response from the EMB member with responsibility Cllr Joy Garner and the Cabinet Member with responsibility Cllr John Daniels [who we know had concerns in relation to this matter].

We noticed that Jane Forshaw, Head of Environmental Services was seen being interviewed on the One Show on BBC1 last night explaining how good the Stoke-on-Trent Enhanced Recycling Scheme was.

UPDATE: 23:32 Earlier this evening we interviewed Jane Forshaw the lead officer of the department concerned. Please listen to the Audio Below.

If you have any further queries/questions or concerns please contact the site. We have been promised that any supplementary questions will receive a response.

Enhanced Recycling – What Cost To The City?

When it was introduced, the enhanced recycling scheme was sold to residents on the basis that it would save the City £1million per year as well as achieving an enhanced rate of recycling that would enable the council to meet its recycling targets.

Throughout the supposed trial many of us raised objections and asked serious questions about the claims being made by Officers.

As I saw it, the issues at the time were, whether the particular methods of recycling being proposed by the Council provided the best mix of cost, efficiency and, importantly, security. The latter was important as we had just experienced a collapse in global markets for recycled materials and only those of the highest quality were being sold, the rest remained unsold in depots across the country.

The Councils proposals were a retrograde step in this regard and the claimed saving of £1million did not stack up as it had so many glaring omissions, not least ignoring the costs of disposal of the recycled materials.

It has taken some months but now a number of FOIs have begun to reveal the truth which is both frightening and also sickening that the Council can be so bad and cost its citizens so much.

Enhanced Recycling Scheme – Costs not budgeted for

  • Blue Wheelie bins. (It was originally planned for these to be leased) ““ £1,600,000
  • Termination cost for current kerbside contract – £50,000
  • Redevelopment of Burslem MRF – £263,170
  • Increased business rates for Burslem MRF (previously paid by the contractor) – unknown
  • Changes to Fowlchurch depot ““ interim arrangements – £20,000
  • Increased cost of disposal of green and food waste

Under the old scheme:

  • Green Waste Tonnes ““ 7,500 tonnes x £26.00 = £195,000

Under the enhanced scheme:

  • Green & Food Waste Tonnes ““ 16,000 tonnes x £65 = £1,040,000
  • Additional cost – £845,000
  • Increased costs of disposal of green waste from Household Waste sites – unknown
  • Increased costs of park and highways green waste disposal – unknown (The real reason why grass cuttings were left on the verge)
  • Change in costs of disposal of dry recyclables (paper, plastic etc.) – unknown
  • Loss of revenue from Newcastle BC @ £7.00/tonne – unknown (Newcastle used the Burslem MRF until they were kicked out)
  • Cost of diversion of waste from Waste to Energy plant – £645,000
  • Costs of TUPE staff from Abitibi to Council ““ unknown
  • Additional staff brought in to manage scheme;
    2 assistant recycling officers plus 1 coordinator – £75,000

Total Costs not budgeted for – £3,498,170

The purchase of the blue wheelie bins cost the City £1.6million but was not necessary and indeed the Government body appointed by the Council to advise on the scheme, WRAP, advised the Council to go down a different route that did not require purchase of wheelie bins. WRAP advised the use of multi compartment vehicles to allow kerbside sorting of dry recyclables, together with separate collections for food waste and garden waste.

The details are as follows;

  1. The Council appointed WRAP to advise on measures to increase recycling in the City to achieve recycling targets laid down in legislation
  2. WRAP produced a report based on improving the established kerbside sorting scheme and introducing collection of food waste. WRAP concluded that an improvement to this scheme including a weekly collection of food waste (separate from garden waste) would be the best scheme and would only entail the purchase of kitchen caddies (@£2ish each) for the food waste. In their report WRAP never advised the Council to purchase new wheelie bins as none were needed for their preferred method of collection. WRAP are also critical of the scope of the report as they were not asked to include disposal costs. WRAP decided to do so anyway.
  3. The WRAP report was buried, Cllrs were not advised of its existence and no Cllrs saw it until recently. WRAP offered to present to cabinet but this offer was ignored by officers.
  4. A certain officer later produced a report which doctored the WRAP conclusions and claimed WRAP recommended comingled collection (it did not) and that this would require purchase of new wheelie bins (@ £17ish each). Total cost of the bins was £1.6million.
  5. The Council did not go to tender for the bins.
  6. The Council did not get written quotes or written assurances of time for delivery from suppliers.
  7. The same officer stated that only one supplier could supply bins within the timeframe, Craemer. No written evidence exists of any enquiries to Craemer or indeed to any other supplier.
  8. The same officer ordered the bins without authorisation from a Cllr or from the EMB. Note: the order was placed in Oct & Nov 2008, before the recycling trial. It appears the officer had decided strategy himself without reference to any others.
  9. The contractor responsible for the existing recycling scheme is told that he contract will termiate in April 2009, before the trials.
  10. To facilitate the change to co-mingled collection and to bring this service in-house, changes were required to the Federation Road MRF which cost in the order of £ 263,170. See this FOI Request

The knock on effect of this was that the disposal options for the food waste (now to be collected with garden waste) meant that only In Vessel Composting (IVC) was considered a suitable option, Due to the presence of food waste open windrow composting could not be used and AD was dismissed out of hand as too expensive. Note; Newcastle which previously had the same system as Stoke and shared facilities with Stoke followed WRAPs recommendations and now sends food waste to Gnosall to an anaerobic digestion plant (@£35/tonne – note the price), garden waste still goes to Simpro @ £26/tonne.

The next steps in the story are;

  1. A tender was issued for IVC in the City.
  2. Vital Earth from Ashbourne complained angrily and verbally about the limitation on having a site within the City and claimed it prevented them from tendering. It did not they just had to acquire a suitable site as any other competitor would have to.
  3. This same officer then stated that there was no suitable site within the city, this despite having received a proposal from Biffa for exactly this at their Newstead site a year previously and despite the City Planner being in talks with other companies about AD/IVC at a particular site in the City. Following this an independent report on availability of suitable sites in Stoke was done which identified over 20 suitable sites.
  4. The tender is pulled by this same officer and re-issued allowing companies to bid whose sites are not within the City. Biffa (Newstead site) refuse to tender in the second round “it’s a done deal” was their view. In the second tender, Vital Earth put in a tender and guess what, they win. Price is £65/tonne to start with. Compare to Newcastle’s costs?

So, to sum up, it appears that a particular Council Officer decided unilaterally to terminate the kerbside recycling contract BEFORE the enhanced recycling trial, orders bins for the whole City BEFORE the trial, buries the WRAP report which is never seen by Cllrs and WRAP are not allowed to present it to them. The WRAP conclusions are then later doctored by the same officer and the City as a result has spent £1.6 million it didn’t need to spend on wheelie bins it didn’t need and issued a 10 year contract to Vital Earth in Ashbourne when a firm based in Stoke was capable of providing this service.

There are many more aspects to this story which relate to the best methods of collection/recycling, joined up working etc., but the few details above are enough to illustrate the lack of strategic thinking and lack of any kind of effective management in this section of the Council.

What do our Councillors make of this? Any of them care to comment?

Links to other relevant FOIs are below