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Veolia hits back over Sheffield recycling to incinerator allegations

A dispute has broken out between the GMB union and waste management company Veolia over GMB’s reporting of a leaked e-mail, which allegedly reveals that Veolia has been diverting recyclable waste from its household waste recycling centres (HWRC) to its incinerator in Sheffield, an accusation that Veolia says is ‘false and entirely incorrect’.

GMB claims that the e-mail sent between senior Veolia staff members shows that Veolia took the decision to divert recyclable waste to its Sheffield Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) in 2011, and that the company acknowledged that this was leading to ‘year-on-year’ reductions in Sheffield’s recycling rates and increased pollution.

Accusations have been leveled at Veolia that the company has been diverting the waste due to a 50,000-tonne shortfall in residual waste needed to run the incinerator to fulfill its obligations to provide district heating for the city, despite Environment Agency regulations demanding that companies must recycle as much as they can.

Despite the details of the e-mail having not been made public, GMB has labeled the purported actions of Veolia as a ‘scandal’, largely due to the fact that GMB members at Veolia’s recycling plant are given a bonus if recycling targets are met – a task made much harder if the accusations aimed at Veolia are correct.

Veolia has strongly denied the accusations and has said that it is urgently seeking the chance to speak to GMB concerning the matter.

The dispute is the latest in a line of difficult moments for Veolia in Sheffield this year, with councillors in Sheffield voting in January to end the council’s contract with Veolia 19 years early due to ‘frustrations with the lack of savings being made’. Signed in 2001, the contract, worth £1.3 billion, will now end in April 2018.

‘Obvious conflict of interest’ or false and entirely incorrect’?

Peter Davies, senior organiser at GMB, said: “We have long said this contract is in a mess and this latest leak makes our members’ task of increasing those recycle rates look almost impossible.

“The people of Sheffield need to know when they bring their waste it is recycled in the main – not deliberately diverted and burned to boost Veolia’s profits. Veolia appear to be burning things that could be recycled – adding to pollution and avoiding paying our members any bonus at the same time.

“We call on Sheffield City Council to be transparent about the recycling requirements in the contract with Veolia. This isn’t just the waste that’s going up in smoke, it’s our members’ pay with it and we will now challenge that.

“The good people of Sheffield and our own members who carry out their recycling have no real control over recycling in this city and that is a scandal. Veolia and the council need to sort this obvious conflict of interest out and sort it now.”

Meanwhile, in response to the allegations, Philip Gilmour, Veolia UK’s Regional Director for the North, said: “I can confirm that the GMB statement regarding recyclable materials from Sheffield’s Household Waste Recycling Centres is false and entirely incorrect.

"Veolia has not instructed any of the Sheffield HWRC contractors to dispose of recyclable material. I have reviewed the ‘leaked’ email that the GMB reference too and there is no such instruction in that email either. I have asked the Union to clarify this as a matter of urgency.

“The HWRC service in Sheffield is geared towards high levels of recycling and there have always been recycling targets that the service providers are targeted to achieve.

“This year’s recycling rate from our HWRCs is already two per cent above last year’s impressive achievement and we would like to thank residents for their continued efforts to support recycling in Sheffield.

“As always, we welcome the opportunity to have a conversation with the GMB to clarify this matter with them.”

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