Veolia parachutes in director to oversee underperforming Leeds incinerator

Environmental services company Veolia has been forced to draft in a director from elsewhere in its operations after its Leeds recycling and incineration facility missed recycling targets three times in a row.

Veolia parachutes in director to oversee underperforming Leeds incineratorIn a report from Leeds City Council’s Environment and Housing Scrutiny Board last week (23 March), details were given about the facility, including the myriad problems affecting its recycling performance for 2016/17. Veolia holds a 25-year contract with Leeds City Council for the recycling and energy recovery facility (RERF), based at Cross Green Industrial Estate.

The RERF uses a mechanical pre-treatment (MPT) process to extract recyclable material from the residual waste collected from the city before the rest is sent to the onsite incinerator.

In September 2016, Veolia was issued with its first improvement notice by the board for failing to meet its Quarter 1 recycling targets. The company provided an improvement plan, citing issues such as material quality, changing markets, snagging and access problems, adjusting its recycling projection for the year to 4.3 per cent, significantly lower than its 10 per cent 2016/17 target.

Additional mechanical issues with the facility’s ballistics separators resulted in failure to meet targets for Quarters 2 and 3. Further improvement notices were issued and Veolia adjusted its projections down to 2.4, then again to 2.1 per cent.

Following this, Veolia brought in a director from another area of its operations to provide support in finding a long-term resolution to the issues.

Discussions with the company’s sub contractors concluded that the ballistic separators were unfit for purpose and needed to be replaced. Interim measures were put in motion to allow the incinerator to continue operating while the full-scale replacement takes place.

A paper pulping facility is currently being built on site, next to the RERF to provide a commercial outlet for paper and card waste. Whilst the report notes that progress has been made on the new facility, in the meantime the lack of means for dealing with card and paper has also affected recycling figures.

The controversial facility is expected by the company to process up to 150,000 tonnes of Leeds’s yearly black bin waste, representing approximately half of the city’s total output. According to the council, this will save more than £200 million over the next 25 years, as well as preventing 62,600 tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

‘Significant efforts’

The report said it was clear Veolia was making ‘significant efforts’ to improve recycling performance, but acknowledged that until the mechanical issues were resolved and the new paper pulping facility fully operational, it is unlikely the contractual levels of recycling performance will be achieved.

Also featured in the report was a description of Leeds’s efforts to engage communities in the recycling agenda, including an ‘invest to save’ campaign, targeting behaviour change amongst local residents to achieve a citywide household recycling rate of 50 per cent by 2020. The authority has also partnered with the University of Leeds under its ‘Living Lab’ project to enhance engagement activities through research and evaluation of current best practice.

More information is available in Leeds City Council’s scrutiny report.

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