Environment and climate change chief insists borough are trying to increase recycling rates

Councillor Robert Donnell, right, at a recycling bank.

Councillor Robert Donnell, right, at a recycling bank.

First published in News Basingstoke Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

LAST week, our Green Town, Green Borough campaign put the spotlight on how a councillor from Hampshire’s best-performing recycling local authority believes the size of the borough’s household bins are a key reason why our recycling rate is so poor.

In a special Q and A, this week we put Councillor Robert Donnell, the borough’s cabinet member for environment and climate change, on the spot with 10 questions.

Will you push for smaller bins to be introduced as a matter of course. If not, why not?

I think a blanket cut in half of how much rubbish the council will collect isn’t something our residents would want, nor would it necessarily increase recycling rates. I don’t believe we should penalise families with young children who may have too much waste for a smaller bin, or residents who one week might have more waste after having guests to visit.

In addition, in the list of neighbouring councils published in The Gazette, only two of 13 have smaller bins.

Much work needs to be done to reduce waste (especially from e.g. food containers) and we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to learn from other successful schemes.

That’s why the council is working with other councils across Hampshire, as well as with manufacturers and even local shops, to develop ways to reduce waste.

We need to make recycling something everyone embraces as part of day-to-day life, not something they see as forced upon them by the council.

To achieve that, we need to ensure that it’s as easy as possible to recycle the widest range of materials.

That’s why we’ve listened to residents and introduced the new kerbside services, for recycling glass, and new services for small electricals and garden waste, available at point of need for maximum convenience.

How do you let residents know that they can request a smaller bin?

In the last year, the priority for recycling publicity has been to let people know about the glass kerbside recycling and then the subsequent ban on glass in the grey bin.

We have been focusing our publicity on these two clear messages and it has worked with a significant increase in glass recycling.

Should residents want a smaller bin, then they can request one – but there has not been many people asking for one.

The council, in a cross-party examination of this, decided that smaller bins were not the way forward but rather it would be better to reduce the amount of side waste (bags and boxes by the side), and we have done this.

Why are smaller households – i.e one or two people – not automatically given a smaller bin?

When a resident moves into a property, there will be a bin there. It would seem silly to take away a perfectly good bin and provide another new one at taxpayers’ expense.

We also have to realise that houses do change in size. A smaller property with one or two residents can massively increase their requirements if they have a baby.

Why do you think Basingstoke and Deane is so bad at recycling?

Let’s be clear – Basingstoke is improving in recycling and we will continue to get better.

It’s not as quick as any of us would like but we are making big steps forward in increasing the types of things that can be recycled with small electrics, garden waste and kerbside glass.

The county is in charge of disposing the waste and works with the borough to run the recycling centre.

I have been very vocal (most of my colleagues would say too vocal!) that the recycling centre must be improved and more things need to be able to be recycled.

Yes, we could do draconian things like cutting in half the bin capacity, cutting the weekly bins or searching through each resident’s bin but that is not the type of Basingstoke that I want to live in or one I believe residents want.

We could also increase our council tax and introduce lots more services or buy lots of new bins – but Eastleigh’s Council Tax is 26 per cent higher than ours, and I am not sure people would want that sort of increase at this difficult time.

The only way we will truly change people’s recycling habits is through education and information, not by making people feel forced into a corner by big brother.

Should the council reward residents for recycling, using schemes similar to Havering, where residents receive green points which can be donated to local charities or spent on over 1,000 products and vouchers?

It’s an interesting idea, but not one that will necessarily work in Basingstoke.

We need to remember that there’s always a balance, between individual responsibilities and enforced practice, and between service level and council tax rates.

Getting that balance right, particularly when there are other services we need to provide, such as support for homeless people and encouraging economic growth, is the council’s job.

As a council, we made a decision to focus our efforts on increasing what people can recycle (glass by the kerbside, small electricals and garden waste) and on education campaigns – making sure people know what they can and can’t recycle.

Establishing these habits at an early age helps, and that’s why we’re currently trialling a schools’ project which will then run borough wide.

How has the council gone about asking residents if they would like alternate weekly collections, and how has this been presented to residents?

In August 2013, 97 per cent of residents said they were happy with the waste recycling service. And I know personally from knocking on doors across Basingstoke that people are adamant they want to maintain the weekly bin collections.

It’s a hot topic in every local election. When the Conservatives took control of the council in 2006, it was on a clear ticket of keeping the weekly bin collection. We have restood on this platform in every election since.

In 2006, The Gazette even did its own poll, and of the 1,792 people who replied, a massive 93 per cent said no to scrapping the weekly bin.

I have run consistently on keeping the weekly bin, and nothing I have seen changes my mind.

They won’t be scrapped on my watch. To me, it would be a colossal waste of money and time to do a consultation again when it is so clear what people’s views are.

How does the council educate and inform residents in the borough about recycling?

In addition to leaflets, direct mail, roadshows, bin hangers, media campaigns, advertising, social media and websites, we’re also working with residents’ magazines and community groups.

You will also have seen the huge adverts on the side of the bin lorries and on the plasma screen in The Malls.

We’ve even identified the areas that look like they recycle the least, and in those areas we have been knocking on doors and talking to individual residents.

The annual residents’ survey told us that people prefer having recycling information in leaflets.

I have already seen the drafts of the next leaflet, and the funds are in place to distribute it to every house in the borough.

Has the council ever considered putting stickers on bin lids to show what can and cannot be recycled – is this possible?

The council already produces stickers which could be put on bin lids.

These are distributed at roadshows, in direct mails and in residents’ packs.

We have also distributed a cut-out-and-keep guide to recycling, to every house in the council’s paper, Basingstoke & Deane Today.

Again, it’s all about encouraging good habits. We recognise that the key time is not at the wheelie bin outside but at the point you throw something away in the kitchen.

That is why we have produced and distributed over 8,000 recycling bags to flats and low recycling areas which both show you what you can recycle and give you something to store it in.

Do you think you are the right person to lead the recycling drive, and if so, why?

What I have is a passion for improving the environment but doing it in a cost-effective way. But frankly, recycling is too important an issue to play personality politics with.

The team at Basingstoke and Deane council is passionate about our work in this area, and is concentrating on making recycling easier, getting people to recycle more, and adding to the increased list of items that can be recycled.

We have to increase recycling in a cost-effective way. That’s why we have got a new waste contract which has saved over £1million a year, delivered the lowest council tax in Hampshire and one of the lowest in England. All this combined with more things that can be recycled and increases in recycling.

How long would you expect it to take before Basingstoke and Deane dramatically improves its recycling figures?

Essentially, big increases in recycling can be achieved in two ways. First, by more people recycling what can currently be recycled, and second, by increasing the things that can be recycled.

Getting more people to recycle what can currently be recycled is about education and information. In some parts of the borough, the recycling rate is as low as 10 per cent.

The council is doing a lot of education and providing information, but at the end of the day it’s also about personal responsibility.

Putting your rubbish in the wrong bin or not recycling is in my view just as bad as fly-tipping. It’s bad for the environment and it costs you and your neighbours money in higher council tax.

The second way is to increase what can be recycled, and I think it’s clear we’ve already done a lot on this.

We have improved the Garden Waste scheme, and will continue to make this suitable for even more people, such as by looking at small paper bags for small houses.

We have introduced a kerbside glass collection and small electrics service, and are working to increase the number of textiles sites as well.

If I can give you a technical example – it’s been really disappointing for me that we have not been able to introduce a Tetrapak recycling service for orange juice cartons etc. 

Previously these had to be exported to Scandinavia to be recycled, which was not exactly environmentally friendly!

There is a recycling plant in the UK now, but it is not accepting bulk delivery from any more councils, and currently we can’t collect Tetrapak in the green bins – another reason we need to improve what the Hampshire recycling centre can sort.

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