Biffa waste contract ‘kills off’ WyeCycle

From April, waste management firm Biffa will start to run the Mid Kent Joint Waste Partnership’s (MKJWP) waste and recycling scheme. This will see it provide services across the Swale, Ashford and Maidstone borough areas.

The deal represents £86 million over a 10-year period, with Biffa claiming it could save councils more than £2.6 million a year, as well as increasing recycling performance.

Under the new contract, Biffa will perform alternate week collections (AWC) of residual waste and co-mingled dry recyclables, as well as a weekly collection of food waste. In addition, it will provide an optional garden waste collection service for a fee.

Biffa stated that, of the three councils covered by the MKJWP, Ashford would undergo the most changes to its collection system, as its current service of weekly collections of refuse and dry recyclables will be replaced by the AWC system laid out in the contract. In a statement, Biffa said that it ‘expects Ashford residents to comfortably exceed a 50 per cent recycling and composting rate once the new service is established’.

Ashford Borough Council had the worst recycling rate in England in 2011/12. Of the 679.5 kilogrammes of waste generated per household last year, just 14 per cent was recycled, reused or composted. However, Maidstone Borough Council was one of the most improved in the country, with a recycling rate of 44.6 per cent.

Maidstone Borough Council will experience the least change, with residents now being able to include glass in their recycling bins. Furthermore, dry recycling, food waste and residual waste will now be collected on the same day. Biffa announced it expected dry recycling tonnages from the borough to increase by 20 per cent as a result.

Similarly, Swale Borough Council will see little change to its current service, with the introduction of a fully co-mingled recyclate collection. It already operates an AWC scheme of residual waste and dry recyclables, and in 2011/12 achieved a recycling, reuse or composting rate of 32 per cent.

The changes will take place in stages. Ashford will commence some services in April 2013, with major changes taking place in July. Maidstone will implement the changes in August, with Swale following suit at the end of the year.

Commenting on the contract, Biffa Municipal Development Director Pete Dickson said: “The decision by the trio of Mid Kent councils to award Biffa their combined contracts makes sound economic and operational sense. Our experience in helping local authorities to leverage their recycling, refuse and street cleansing services to achieve better performance and cost-savings will again be vital to achieving the desired outcomes.

“We anticipate delivering marked increases in recycling – and particularly relish aiming to move Ashford from its current lowly position to the upper quartile of this year’s recycling league tables.”

New contract is “legally questionable”

However, local not-for-profit recycling firm WyeCycle has stated that the new contract is driving it out of business. The company announced it would cease operations on 31 March as a result of the new contract, suspending domestic collections on 21 March.

WyeCycle ran the UK’s first doorstep collection of recycling in the UK, and over the past 24 years has serviced 1,200 households in the Wye and Brook parishes of Ashford borough. (The MKJWP, by comparison, will service 160,000 homes.)

In a statement released last week, the community enterprise stated that its kerbside service showed ‘government and councils across the land how such a service could help the environment and provide householders with an easy way to recycle their household waste’. It further claimed it has helped villagers to recycle ‘up to 70 per cent of their waste’, and that it fears the new scheme will result in ‘worse environmental outcomes’, with paper recycling being sent overseas and compost being driven outside the borough.

Writing to local residents, WyeCycle Managing Director Richard Boden stated that Ashford Borough Council had replicated collection methods used by WyeCycle and has told the company that it is no longer needed. Boden called this “certainly immoral” and “legally questionable in the context of government initiatives such as Localism, Community Right to Challenge, and Neighbourhood areas”.

WyeCycle says that its closure will mean the loss of: three local jobs, as well as ‘back-to-work’ placements and ‘casual work for village youngsters’; ‘vital’ support for Wye Community Farm; a village furniture reuse scheme; refill schemes; and educational support for local schools.

Boden commented on the situation, saying: “Things are getting desperate. We’ve repeatedly tried to talk to the council but they just won’t listen. We’ve also tried talking to Biffa, the council’s new waste contractor, and they are not interested either. They could easily subcontract Wye and Brook to us – it’s nothing to them. Whatever happened to localism? They are killing off a highly successful community enterprise for no reason.”

Read more about WyeCycle.