Can four-weekly collections move mountains in Conwy?
Rising costs of residual waste reduction are forcing councils to rethink how they collect their black bins. A trial of four-weekly collections in the Welsh county of Conwy has produced extremely positive results, Rob Cole learns
Nestled between the lapping shores of the Irish Sea and the foothills of the sprawling Snowdonia mountain range lies the county of Conwy, a local authority making waves in local government waste management.
Conwy, which currently recycles 63 per cent of its municipal waste, in line with the Welsh national average, has become something of a recycling beacon almost a year on from the council’s decision to implement a three-weekly residual waste collection and to trial a four-weekly collection across 10,600 households across the county for a year. Alongside their new residual calendars, all households receive weekly food waste, recycling and nappy collections and fortnightly collections of garden waste, electricals and textiles.
Despite initial fears regarding vermin and fly tipping, the trial, started in September 2016, appears to have been a success, increasing recycling by a sizable 17 per cent in the households involved (it has risen by a not insignificant six per cent in three-weekly areas), while the amount of waste collected from refuse bins fell across all households by 30 per cent (compared to 20 per cent in three-weekly homes), bringing helpful cost savings in waste disposal.
This was undoubtedly a leap into the unknown for Conwy and so extensive research and analysis was required before implementing the trial. Commenting on the changes, Jon Eastwood, Waste Manager at Conwy Council, said: “We decided on the changes following a review of what was being put into refuse bins in the county in terms of compositional analysis carried out by WRAP for the Welsh Government. It was obvious that, based on the samples, over half of the contents of the refuse bins contained stuff we were collecting on the kerbside recycling service and it was costing us about £1.6 million in landfill charges and loss of recycling income.”
The response to the changes has been “overwhelmingly positive”, says Eastwood, and people “have adapted to the change very quickly”.
To hear that the change has for the most part been received so positively comes as something of a surprise, but this has not come about overnight. A focused and responsive communications campaign has been rolled out to accompany the change, including a countywide recycling survey in August and September of 2015 (which received 11,200 responses and indicated that people would be open to a reduced collection), visits to around 30 schools a year, and taking a recycling information trailer to local events, which was visited by around 3,000 people before the rollout.
The importance of constant communication between the council and residents is not lost on Eastwood: “Residents have adapted marvellously but I don’t think you could do this without focusing on communications. It’s a project that’s been communicated to residents for the best part of two years now. I think a positive thing for us was some of the negative pieces of press really, in terms of trying to sensationalise this as a cut to services, as they all referred to our message that it would increase recycling (and raised awareness of the change).”
Concerns arose concerning vermin and fly-tipping before the trial, prompting negativity from the tabloid press. However, these fears appear to have been unfounded, with Eastwood saying that, in reality, “there is no evidence to suggest an increase in vermin or fly tipping”, but he also acknowledged that this was something the council had to be vigilant about due to public concerns on the matter.
Conwy’s trial has shown that a monthly waste collection can work and achieve the desired increases in recycling that it was intended for, but how likely are other authorities to follow suit? Eastwood concludes: “I think there will be a lot of councils interested in what we’re doing. We are genuinely proud that we have boosted recycling in Conwy and we’re looking forward to completing the full 12 months and being able to share the success of the trial!”