Sustainability

Fortnightly collections improve recycling rates

Recycling Operative

A new report into alternate weekly collections (AWC) of ‘black bag’ residual waste and dry recyclables has found that AWC can increase recycling rates by up to nine per cent and reduce collection costs.

Conducted by the University of Southampton between March and June 2009 the study, 'The impact of alternate weekly collections on waste arising', assessed the effects of switching from weekly collections of residual waste and co-mingled dry recyclables to fortnightly collections.

The ten-week trial covered 2,000 households in Lichfield and examined changes to frequency of collection, type of container issued, amounts of sorting required of residents, household participation and productivity levels.

According to authors Professor Williams and Cole, the report was undertaken as although ‘many authorities have adopted an alternate weekly collection (AWC) of residual waste and recyclables to force/encourage householders to recycle', the degree to which they achieve waste reduction has 'yet to be reliably quantified’.

As part of the recycling trials, four areas covered by the recycling trials (three in Armitage with Handsacre and one in Kings Bromley) switched from their existing service of weekly dual-stream recycling collections to AWC single and dual-stream household waste collections, (with separate collections of residual waste and kitchen/garden waste).

Single-stream waste collection involved placing all recyclables into a single 240-litre bin, whereas dual-stream collection involved co-mingled glass, plastic and metal collection with a separate paper and cardboard stream.

The changes were then compared to a baseline established in 2008, prior to the trials.

Report findings

The report found that over the course of ten weeks, recycling rose by up to nine per cent and that for both single and dual-stream collections, the amount of residual waste fell (compared to the same weeks the year before).

The amount of residual waste collected from those on a single-stream trial fell from 9.17 tonnes per household per week to 8.00 tonnes, and residual waste collected from those on a dual-stream collection fell from 7.09 tonnes per household per week, to 6.86 tonnes.

Further, the report found that though the dual stream performed better than the single stream in terms of waste collected (5.94 kg per household per week (kg/hh/week), as opposed to 5.63 kg/hh/week), the latter displayed a greater improvement ‘in the weight of material collected (0.53 kg/hh/week, as opposed to 0.48 kg/hh/week in the dual stream).

As well as improving residual waste arisings and recycling levels, the trials also found that the move to the AWC system resulted in ‘a reduction of transport and employee costs of £68,000’ and resulted in the removal of three vehicles for the service.

According to the report, 92 and 95 per cent of respondents reported they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied with the kerbside recycling and food/garden waste collections, respectively, while overall, 72 per cent of respondents reported that they could fit all their recyclates into their boxes and 83 per cent felt the existing scheme was ‘easy to understand’.

The report concluded that ‘reducing the frequency of collections did not have a negative impact on the yield of recyclates collected’ and that both single stream and dual stream collection methods saw improved recycling figures.

The dual stream was found to have produced ‘consistently more recyclate per household’, though it was noted that it had a number of drawbacks when compared to the single stream method: ‘higher costs in terms of staff time and vehicles, greater complexity in explaining to householders, more difficulty for collection crews to manage,’ as well as healthy and safety concerns due to increased manual handling.

The findings come ahead of next week’s Judical Review into the legality of co-mingled collections, following which seeks to align the UK’s Waste Regulations with the European Commission’s (EC) revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) on the separate collection of dry recyclables.

Findings ‘embarrassing for government’

Though most local authorities in England and Wales operate AWC systems it has become a source of much contention within government.

Despite this being the ‘first’ attempt to assess the effect of AWC systems on recycling rates, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has already made available a £250 million three-year Weekly Collection Support Scheme fund in an attempt to encourage uptake of weekly collections, something which the DCLG’s Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, deems a “basic right”.

However, Trafford Council announced on Tuesday (19 February) that it had rejected an offer of £6.4 million from Eric Pickles’s WCSS as maintaining weekly residual waste collections, at a cost of £11.6 million, would remain financially unviable.

Speaking of the report findings, principal investigator and member of the University’s Centre for Environmental Sciences, Professor Ian Williams, said: "This study has clearly shown that the adoption of an AWC scheme positively impacted on recycling rates and household behaviour, with no obvious adverse impacts on public participation, household waste arisings, public health or the local environment.

“Participation and set-out rates and operator productivity levels also showed an increase during the trial period. The findings are embarrassing for Mr Pickles and the government, as it highlights that their current policies are at odds with the evidence."

As a result of the report’s findings, Lichfield District Council opted to ‘roll out the single stream fortnightly recyclate collections in wheeled bins to all areas’ in an effort to reduce costs and boost recycling rates.

Read ‘The impact of alternate weekly collections on waste arising' report.