If not now, when? If not us, then who?

Falkirk Council’s Waste Strategy Co-ordinator Ross Fenwick and Operational Services Manager Robin Baird say that now is the time to challenge recycling behaviour and take a step towards the sustainable world we keep talking about.

If not now, when? If not us, then who? Falkirk CouncilSince 2014, Falkirk has been at the forefront of changes in local authority waste management, firstly moving to a collection of residual waste once every three weeks then, in October 2016, to once every four, affecting approximately 92 per cent of 72,000 properties in the Falkirk Council area.

Householders now have as standard 60 litres per week for residual waste disposal at the kerbside (certain households can qualify for an additional collection of absorbent hygiene products, e.g. nappies), as well as 231 litres per week for recyclable material that includes food waste, metals, plastics, paper, cardboard, glass, small electricals, household batteries and garden waste. So there is little doubt that Falkirk has indeed decided that the answer to the titular question is: it is now, it is us.

The early results following the service change indicate that food waste tonnages have increased and residual waste at the kerbside has decreased.

Residual frequency

Collection every two weeks

Collection every three weeks

Collection every four weeks

Average residual (kg/household/week)




Average food waste (kg/household/week)




However, we still believe that there is a proportion of recyclable material, particularly food waste, that could be collected from the kerbside for reprocessing, but it can still find its way into the wrong container.

And now, at this point some four months on, we have asked ourselves:

  • Have we gone as far as we can with residual capacity in order to change household behaviour?
  • Have we gone as far as we can to make the link for householders of the consequences of their disposal choices?
  • Have we gone as far as we can with the voluntary request for householders to recycle?

With the budgetary constraints that we face in 2017/18 and beyond, and as all councils look to an uncertain future, we remain in the position of having to continue to finance a collection service and the treatment of the collected material that is not fully supported.

But why should we continue to accept recyclable material in the residual waste container, effectively paying twice to collect the same material? As councils across the country continue to make severe cutbacks, why is it an acceptable outcome to landfill resources and pay extra cost?

In Scotland, we have the perverse situation where businesses are required by law to recycle and evidence this. Yet householders do not have the same responsibility! This to us poses a unique question: we attend conferences, seminars and read publications of how serious both the need to live sustainably and be more prudent in how we deliver services in the future, yet the elephant in the room remains: no one wants to challenge behaviour and actions of society to help deliver the utopian world of sustainability.

Barack Obama once said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” We think he had it almost right; we have pushed the boundaries, we have achieved certain change through reducing capacity, but true change can only happen if everyone wants it to. We are yet to remain convinced that everyone really wants to make the decisions like we did to make that change possible. Maybe one day, when we truly realise that we need to be brave enough to challenge the acceptable, true change will arrive!

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