It all stacks up
Resource checks in on one of the first local authorities to embrace the Welsh Government’s Collections Blueprint model, Conwy.
In March 2011, the Welsh Government took the bold step of recommending a recycling service profile for all local authorities that, ‘if adopted across the whole of Wales’, it said, ‘would result in high rates of high-quality recycling, significant cost savings and improved sustainable development outcomes’.
The blueprint model, in addition to weekly separate food waste collections and restricted residual waste collections, called clearly for kerbside sorting, either in three boxes or two boxes and a bag, referring to it as ‘the cheapest and most affordable solution when looked at holistically... [and most] likely to deliver high-quality, high-income recyclate and closed-loop recycling – delivering financial, economic, environmental and social gains’.
When the government announced the blueprint, a stackable box system had not been attempted in Wales, but Conwy County Borough Council was in the process of developing one – trialling several different designs over the course of six months – with the help of both WRAP Cymru and the Welsh Government.
Jon Eastwood, Waste Manager at Conwy County Borough Council, explains that the council was already firmly behind the idea of kerbside sorting, but wanted to “make it easier” for residents to recycle, while ensuring that the system “looked good as well on the streets”. The system that the council ultimately decided upon (and named ‘Trolibocs’ to work phonetically in both English and Welsh) is comprised of three boxes stacked on a wheeled trolley: a 55-litre box for glass and cans on the bottom, with a flap to post material through; a 55-litre flapped container for cans and plastic in the middle; and a 45-litre box for paper and card with an opening lid, as well as a locking mechanism so that the wind doesn’t take it away. All of the dry recycling, as well as food waste, is collected weekly in a single pass by resource recovery vehicles with 3.7-tonne payloads.
The system has seen the county’s recycling rate hit 59 per cent, and has also proved popular with residents, with Eastwood telling me: “This was very positively received – people were actually asking when they were going to be getting these Trolibocs”. He adds: “People have accepted the Trolibocs as the way forward and are proud that it’s been nurtured out of Conwy.”
And, indeed, other authorities in Wales have taken notice of Conwy’s success (as well as the Welsh Government’s advice), and the three box stackable system has also been implemented in Gwynedd and Blaenau Gwent, with other councils considering the switch.
Such councils, especially those still co-mingling, may have paused when, at the end of 2014, the National Assembly for Wales’s Environment and Sustainability Committee reported on the state of recycling in Wales and claimed that new evidence had arisen since the Collections Blueprint was published, meaning that ‘no single method of collecting resources from householders offers a clear lead in performance, cost or efficiency’. As a result, Eunomia Research & Consulting was commissioned to perform an independent review, which has found that the Collections Blueprint ‘does still appear to offer clear benefits in terms of cost and material quality, whilst offering no relative overall disadvantages in terms of recycling performance and health and safety (and clear advantages regarding residual waste volume restriction and food waste collection)’.
The review also concludes that there is ‘strong evidence’ to support policies focusing on the restriction of household waste capacity, suggesting that a move to three- or four- weekly residual waste collections could result in further improvements (in particular for food waste) and cost reduction.
For its part, with its eye on the Welsh Government’s 2024/25 70 per cent recycling target, as well as its bottom line, Conwy was already planning such a move, with the council’s Customers Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommending a four-weekly residual waste collection system, saying it would save an estimated £558,000 a year and reduce residual waste by almost 18 per cent. The council’s cabinet ultimately ruled this ‘a bridge too far’, and voted instead to roll out three-weekly collections, which should be in place later in the year. Eastwood hopes that the restriction will go some way towards preventing the £1.6 million worth of recyclables that still go to landfill from that fate, and that the Trolibocs will be an even more prominent presence on the street on collection day.
3 boxes of recyclables plus one food waste caddy are collected per week
59 per cent recycling was achieved by Conwy in 2014/15
70 per cent must be recycled by 2024/25, according to Welsh Government targets
3 weekly residual waste collection will be rolled out in Conwy later this year