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