71 per cent of One Show viewers want weekly waste collections

Around 71 per cent of people who answered a poll on the BBC’s early evening programme The One Show on Wednesday (29 January) think that residual waste bins should be collected once every seven days.

The short survey conducted on Wednesday's programme was open to viewers after a question and answer session with Eric Pickles, in which the minister praised weekly collections (though was not challenged by an opposing view).

The survey asked: ‘How frequently should your general waste be collected?’ Viewers had the option of choosing one of the following answers: weekly, fortnightly, or three-weekly (as Falkirk Council will do from April 2014).

Of those who voted, 71 per cent said residual waste should be collected every seven days, 26 per cent voted for every 14 days, and three per cent said every three weeks.

The question came following a brief question and answer session with Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles (dubbed by presenter Alex Jones as ‘minister for bins’), in which Pickles voiced his support of weekly residual waste collections, referencing his highly criticised ‘Bin Bible’, which he claims exposes the ‘myths’ of fortnightly collections.

The programme made no mention of the fact that the waste and resources industry, on the other hand, has labelled the document ‘disturbing’ and ‘insulting’. Showing a high degree of prescience, CIWM President Steve Lee even warned it was “likely to reignite damaging media debate that pits one type of collection scheme against another in an entirely unhelpful way”.

Ignoring the possibility of collecting ‘smelly’ waste like nappies and food waste on a more frequent basis than residual waste, Pickles told The One Show: “There are some things in life that are pretty damn smelly, and the thought of them being around for a couple of weeks is just dreadful.”

Highlighting that Wales is considering moving to three weekly or monthly collections, Pickles added: “Can you imagine a nappy staying around for a month? That’s not going to be very nice is it? … Think about the summer, how hot it gets, think about the maggots, think about the rats – it’s not a good place.”

Viewers also emailed in to voice their thoughts on the question, with one suggesting that there could be fortnightly collections in winter, and weekly collections in summer (when organic waste can decompose more quickly), while another said (despite Pickles’s suggestions) that they’ve had fortnightly collections of residual waste for years, and had ‘never seen a rat’.

Pickles added that his department’s Weekly Collection Support Scheme (which has also been widely criticised) was offering councils the option of moving to weekly collections of residual waste and recyclables are ‘no extra cost’, and that it ‘is working’. However, he did not elaborate on how this was being quantified.

Co-mingled vs separate sort

As well as the frequency of residual waste collections, the programme considered the number of bins used in different waste management systems in the UK. In a short film, presenter Alex Riley highlighted the disparity between local authority recycling systems (from householders putting recyclables into one co-mingled bin, to those having to separate out streams in different boxes), and asked whether there was an ‘advantage’ to sorting recyclables into different bins.

In a ‘mission to sift out the fact from the fiction’, presenter Alex Riley spoke to advocates of both co-mingling and separate-sort collections.

Visiting a £30-million materials recycling facility (MRF) in East London (run by waste management company Bywaters), Riley heard from Strategic Development Manager David Rumble that the technology at the facility was ‘just as good’ at sorting co-mingled waste into different streams as manual pre-sorting, and that ‘everybody should just use one recycling bin’.

Showing Riley around the site, Rumble pointed to bales of cardboard (ready to be sent to a reprocessor for recycling), saying that it was ‘as good as anything that will come from a multi-bin system’.

However, Nick Cliffe, Marketing Manager at plastics recycling company Closed Loop Recycling, highlighted that source separation delivers higher quality recyclates (specifically for plastics), adding: “At every point at which you can avoid contamination, the better. You have to perform an enormous amount of sorting to get to the plastic bottles that I want to buy.”

He went on to say that for a ‘low-quality’ bale of plastic, he’d pay around £150 a tonne (and of that, as little as 50 per cent is viable for reprocessing into plastic bottles), whereas for a ‘good-quality bale’ (made up of 95 per cent or more of ‘good quality’ plastic bottles), he’d pay between £350-£400 per tonne (depending on the market).

Director General of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Barry Dennis, appeared to back up Cliffe’s point, saying: “When recyclates are collected separately, that can make it cleaner… if you want the cleanest, you’re going to have to pay. Because the recyclates are traded all over the world now, they’re a commodity, we’re not a waste management industry anymore, we’re a resource management industry, and what we’re trying to do is extract the value from the recyclates right along the line.”

However, Riley wasn’t won over by the source-separation argument (and clearly had not come across the idea of kerbside sort from a single recycling container), concluding: “It seems to be this debate is about money than it is about quality, because with the right investment a machine can do the sorting just as well as the householder. And if we only had one bin, the front garden would be a lot tidier, wouldn’t it?”

Unsurprisingly, Pickles agreed with Riley’s conclusion, saying:  “You’d be surprised, even though [plastic bottles] have been co-mingled, how clean they are, how separate they are, and how saleable they are.

“I think recycling should be something you want to do, it should be very easy… for some the bin almost becomes a religion, until you get a ‘bin blight’ and become a mini-recycling bank yourself.”

When asked directly if householders need to separate materials into bins, Pickles said: “If you’ve got something like that [MRF] at the end, and there are growingly [sic] a number of these plants around the country, and if your local authority has a contract with them, frankly, one bin is enough. But of course if you don’t have that, then some degree of separation is probably very sensible.”

He went on to say that state-of-the-art MRFs were expensive and that many were built for profit, rather than for ‘public service’, but joked: “only politicians can make money out of rubbish generally”.

This kind of survey 'completely and utterly meaningless'

The validity of the survey has been questioned by several members of the industry, however, with Alan Wheeler, Director of the Textile Recycling Association (and former recycling officer for one of the first councils in the country to introduce alternate weekly collections) telling Resource that it was his personal view that "we don’t know what percentage of One Show viewers want a weekly collection".

He continued: "This kind of survey is completely and utterly meaningless and the results probably bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real level of support. All we know is that 71 per cent of those respondents who responded to the survey wanted to have weekly collections.  Respondents to these kind of worthless surveys generally have a stronger view about the matter being talked about and therefore are more likely to vote.  The majority who are not really bothered are not going to respond. So Eric Pickles really should not see this as an endorsement of his view.”

Wednesday’s episode of The One Show is available on BBC iPlayer until Wednesday (5 February).