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Swansea Council could fine residents for not recycling

News that Swansea Council will be checking black bin bags for recyclables at the kerbside – and fining residents who fail to recycle properly – has been met with a mixed response from residents.

The ‘Keep it out’ campaign will see recycling officers shaking black bags – not opening them – to check that they don’t contain recyclables. Chris Howell, Head of Waste Management at Swansea Council, explained: “Officers will perform a fairly simple ‘clink’ test. Pick the bag up and shake it to see if you can hear cans and glass. Look at the bag to see whether there are any plastic bottles or paper sticking out. Feel the weight of the bag which could indicate that there is food waste present.”

If a household is found to be putting recyclables in their residual waste bin, a fine of £100 could be in order, but only after the newly-appointed officers have “engage[d] with residents who are found not to recycle fully… We will spend several weeks engaging with residents and giving them information on how they can recycle. Residents would only face fines if they continually ignore our advice and guidance.”

Swansea Council could fine residents for not recyclingThe measures, which came into force on 25 February, were first proposed in December 2018 and have been met with mixed responses. Initial results of the council’s consultation into the proposal showed that 86 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposal, while 65 per cent supported enforcement action – of a 150-person sample. However, more recently, some residents were unhappy with the prospect of having council officers inspect their bin bags, with one telling the BBC it was an “invasion of privacy”. Another commenter on Twitter said: “You are never going to prove beyond reasonable doubt which house left which bags, every fine will be contested.”

However, Swansea Council has been keen to make it clear that the fines are a last resort. Howell said: “It is not our ambition to hand out any fines, success for us would be residents recycling fully without the need for fines.”

Mark Thomas, Swansea Cabinet Member for Environment and Infrastructure Management, said: "It's worth pointing out that this is not an exercise to catch people out who make simple mistakes and accidentally put recyclable waste in their black bag. We are not looking to penalise residents who already recycle properly."

New measures to increase recycling rates

The ‘Keep it out’ campaign hopes to boost Swansea’s recycling rate in order for it to achieve the high Welsh targets for local authorities – 64 per cent recycling by 2019/20 and 70 per cent by 2025.

As a country, Wales has the highest recycling rate of all the UK nations, self-reporting a figure of 62.7 per cent for municipal waste (household and non-household waste) in 2017/18. The most recent UK Government figures place Wales’ waste from households (WfH) recycling rate at 57.6 per cent for the calendar year 2017. In comparison, England is on 45.2 per cent.

Swansea’s most recent reported recycling rate is around 63 per cent for 2017/18, a drop of 0.14 per cent on the previous year. In its proposal report for the ‘Keep it out campaign’, the council stated that its ‘recycling rate is anticipated to drop further, to around 62 per cent for 2018/19 due to difficulties in recycling wood.’ Howell said that he hopes the ‘Keep it out’ campaign will boost recycling by around two per cent, “though this will obviously depend on whether the public change their purchasing habits which could lead to further waste minimisation.”

He continued: “The council has to achieve increasing recycling targets at the same time as we face greater budget pressure. A national analysis of the contents of black bags showed that 50 per cent of the material being discarded could in fact be recycled. When we reviewed other potential options (such as a reduction in black bag limit or a reduced frequency of collection) we felt that this approach was the fairest for all residents as it wouldn’t impact on those already recycling.”

The analysis Howell referred to, conducted in 2016 by consultants Resource Futures, found that around a quarter (24.8 per cent) of the recyclable content of bins was food waste, the majority of which the study says was avoidable. The rest of the recyclable content was made up of dry materials – paper and card being the most commonly binned. According to the study, 22 per cent of paper and 28 per cent of aluminium foil and cans is still ending up in landfill, despite being widely collected for recycling from the kerbside.

If local authorities can begin to capture some of that lost material, they will be on their way to reaching Wales’ 70 per cent target, which only two councils have so far achieved – Anglesey and Ceredigion (and the latter dropped back to 64 per cent in 2017/18).

However, as noted by Howell, there are other measures Swansea could implement that might also help to reduce black bag waste, such as reducing residual waste collections to three-weekly or monthly. This approach has been implemented by a number of local authorities to great effect, with Powys (which introduced the measure in 2015) reporting that in the first 12 months following the roll-out of three-weekly collections, it saw a reduction in kerbside residual waste of 2,410 tonnes, a 13.8 per cent drop. In the same period, kerbside dry recycling went up by 6.5 per cent, and collection of food waste by almost 20 per cent.

Cllr Thomas confirmed that Swansea will not be reducing its residual waste collections in the near future, saying: "While those measures may be effective elsewhere in the country, it's not something we are considering. This would be unfair on those who are recycling and that's not right in my opinion.”

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