Agenda item

Mike Smith asked the Executive Member for Environment and Leisure the following question:




I note from the agenda for this meeting that the purpose is to discuss and approve the expenditure of £288,000 on the purchase of close-able, waterproof recycling bags as a replacement of the currently used, open, hard plastic boxes.  This is to mitigate against wet paper waste.  I also note this purchase would result in a commitment to an additional £235,000 annual costs. 


I have 4 years’ experience of these types of weighted, waste segregated bags as currently used by Cornwall County Council where the County average for recycling is just 25.2% according to their website in January 2020.  Currently many of these plastic sacks are tatty, they do blow around in relatively modest winds despite being weighted and the lid fastenings are not particularly functional in keeping water out. 


I note from the Enclosure One document that the appraisal has been entirely desk based and includes a highly subjective and complex model.  For example, the first (and most influential) criteria in the model is “Impact on recycling rates” with a weighting of 40% – You have scored the plastic sacks at 10 but only 6 for shower caps and lids – in my mind,  there is no difference as all three do exactly the same in keeping the rain out.  The rest of the model is equally open to criticism.


There is a comment in the main document that Monmouthshire Council has trialled them for a year on page 10.   Actually it is less than 9 months and your report does not say it is only on just 2,000 households - therefore the comments on page 11 of your report about replacement cycles compared with black boxes is entirely invalid and misleading.  And they have not been implemented across that whole County.    


Please can you explain how you justify to the residents of Wokingham, not doing any practical trials with the residents before spending over a quarter of a million pounds in capital with additional annual costs of £235,000 as the business case is not, to my mind, as a retired technical auditor, comprehensive, robust and compelling?



I note the comparison between Wokingham and Cornwall in regard to recycling rates.  The collection arrangements in Cornwall are very different to our own and they have three different receptacles; while we only have one.  They have three separate recycling materials as compared to our single receptacle.  We aim to make recycling as easy as possible for our residents and this is likely the reason why our current recycling rate is double that of Cornwall.  If I may add they are not made out of hessian they are polypropylene material and very recyclable.  Hessian I think was bandied around some time ago as a generic name but they are not hessian they are polypropylene.


The Officers have used the Monmouthshire Council trial and there are 3,000 properties, not what you said, which if you give each house two bags that is 6,000 bags and it is a new product over 12 months to inform the recommendation to proceed with the recycling bags. Feedback from Monmouthshire residents was positive including that the waterproof bag was robust, reduces the impact on the environment and is convenient. In addition to these the Council has found that the paper and card material remains dry, and that is the whole point of employing these bags, and the collection crews find the system very, very, straightforward. 


The bags have been assessed against other options of a shower cap and lids for the current boxes which has been informed by other Councils’ findings and the consultant’s considerable expert knowledge and experience. Officers have also fully tested the proposed bags to ensure that they are waterproof.


Therefore I am confident that the proposed bags have been fully considered against other options and are the best short-term solution to wet waste to both save the Council a large amount of money and to increase our recycling.


The consultant’s report and the Council’s own experience are clear that wet paper would cost Wokingham Borough Council £600k per annum in lost recycling income.  This would affect our recycling rate by 6% per annum therefore undermining the climate change commitment to reach 70% recycling by 2030.   Further, as I said, the Cornwall comparison is not really valid.


Supplementary Question

What will you do if this £288k worth of capital expenditure fails to realise the £13k per week your report says it is going to produce in initial income?  It does not work.


Supplementary Answer

We have done a great deal of work on this Mr Smith and we have found that if we do not do anything we are going to keep losing £600k per year in lost recycling income and we are confident that having spent that money we will be saving something like just over £400k per year.


The Leader of Council stated:

It does not actually say that we are going to make £13k per week.  We have a problem and the problem is that it is not of our own making.  We launched food waste 18 months ago and that has been enormously successful and in the wake of that we bought a new fleet of vehicles so it was an expensive change but it is has been a very, very, successful change.  Thereafter we thought that our black bins, which everyone seems to be happy with, and blue bags, which everyone seems to be happy with in the short term, was going to be a medium term solution. 


However, the Chinese in their infinite wisdom decided that they would stop being the recycling centre of the world and therefore the market changed and the recyclers, or the secondary recyclers, got more picky and all of a sudden last winter started rejecting our, and our partners’, batches.  That caused us, Wokingham Borough Council, a cost of approximately £600k per year.  The available solutions to that problem are not obvious and none of the solutions are perfect.  Clearly the most immediate solution was to buy lids for our boxes but the people who collect the rubbish said this would be a nightmare because we will be chasing lids all over the streets and particularly on windy and wet days.  It would not work for us and would actually take longer.  So we then went through a consulting exercise through a third party, who presumably is an expert, to supplement our expertise of our Officers which is considerable.  On balance they have recommended this solution.


You and everybody else can criticise line 3 of page 40 of the report until the cows come home but we recognise that it is a compromise and we recognise that we have taken the best advice from our Officers, who strongly recommend it, and a third party.  We have to in our current constrained circumstances do something about £600k going down the drain.  We do not have unlimited financial resources.  Covid has hit our profit and loss and balance sheet very hard and it had to and we are in a recovery situation. 


So we just have to do something and anybody who is impeding us doing it is actually working against the public interest and I ask all the Lib Dems, like yourself Mike because you and Caroline get two bites of the cherry because you are married, to support us on this and recognise that there is no perfect solution for the predicament that we are in currently and that is why we have taken so much advice.