Monthly collections go on trial in Fife

Fife is the first council in Britain to ‘go monthly’ when it comes to waste collection (at least for a very small selection of its residents). Resource finds out how it’s going

When Fife Council announced in March of last year that it would be trialling monthly collections of residual waste, it became the first authority in Great Britain to do so, after a trial in Banbridge in Northern Ireland in 2014 saw black bag arisings fall by 35 per cent and recycling rise to 64.5 per cent. The aim, according to Stephanie Newstead, Environmental Strategy Officer at Fife, was, of course, to improve recycling performance: “Certainly the reason that we decided to change our recycling service was to increase the amount we recycle, reduce what we’re sending to landfill and, at the end of the day, to make savings financially as well. We did a review of our current four-bin recycling service, which found that 50 per cent of what was still going into our blue landfill bins should actually be going in the kerbside recycling bins. And, also, we had feedback from customers that they’d like to see their recycling bins emptied more frequently.”

Monthly collections go on trial in Fife

Currently, for the vast majority of its 165,000 properties, the council collects garden, food and residual waste fortnightly, while dry recycling collections (one box for cans and plastic and one for paper and card) occur on a monthly basis. With the Scottish Government’s 60 per cent 2020 recycling target and the even more ambitious 70 per cent 2025 target in mind, though, Fife considered seven proposals to improve recycling performance, settling on two trials, each of 2,000 households. The first trial sees residual waste collected monthly, while dry recycling increases to three-weekly, and the second trial sees both waste and dry recycling collected on a three- weekly basis. Both trials have fortnightly collection of food and garden waste, apart from during winter months, when it reduces to monthly. The Fife Council Executive Committee estimated that implementing such changes across the council area could see annual revenue savings of over £350,000, rising to over £900,000 after 2021, and could increase recycling to more than 66 per cent while reducing landfill by roughly a third.

This article was taken from Issue 83

Communicating with residents in the trial area has been a priority from the start, Newstead tells me, listing off the many different ways the council has made information available: “We put together quite an extensive communication campaign. So, we’ve done direct mailings, deliveries to all the households involved – they’ve had teasers, guides with calendars included... We’ve also done public information evenings in all the areas. We’ve gone alongtoevents–thingslikesummerfairsandgalasand coming up to Christmas again, similar things... We have a couple of recycling advisors working specifically on the trial, and they’re available if people think they are going to struggle. We’ve done all the usual sorts of things like press releases – we have had quite a lot of media interest in this, there’s been a lot in local as well as national press, too.”

The press, Newstead states, has been “fairly balanced overall”. There’s been the occasional negative story (with the Daily Mail inevitably putting a negative and not-entirely-accurate spin on it: ‘food scraps and rubbish including soiled nappies, pet waste, used kitchen towels and sanitary products will be left to rot for weeks’), but also plenty of positive and simply factual stories.

And the initial results are promising. Though Newstead cautions that “it’s really early days”, with the trials just having started last September, she notes that “landfill recycling does look like it’s going down and recycling does look like its going up” and, encouragingly, the council hasn’t had resident complaints, though it will be doing a customer feedback survey after the trials have been going for six months.

Inevitably, with recycling targets and the need for financial savings in mind, many councils will be watching Fife’s progress with interest. Asked what advice she’d give authorities considering similar schemes, Newstead highlights the importance of communication, “providing as much information for people as you can”, as well as planning: “We’ve done a lot of work before we actually got to the stage where we’re rolling it out, and I think that’s very important."