A presentation was given to the Committee on local, national and local authority waste-related stories that have been in the media.
As reported at the last meeting there has been a lot of media interest in the disrupted bin collection service in Newcastle, following changes in working practices. The unofficial dispute is now in its fifth month and the Council has ordered an independent review of its refuse collection services and working practices to compare them with arrangements in other authorities. This will include interviews with staff, managers, Trade Union representatives and Councillors will be interviewed.
It was reported that there has been a restructure in Defra, with Andrea Leadsom has been appointed as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In addition, Therese Coffey has replaced Rory Stewart as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defra. The Committee was advised that the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills have been scrapped and replaced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and will be led by Greg Clark.
Defra has reported that, based on the first six months following the introduction of the plastic bag levy in England, it is expected that single use plastic bags issued by supermarkets will fall by six billion over the full year. The Waste and Marine Conservation Society highlighted that the reduction will benefit the environment as a whole and sea life in particular. In addition, the charge for plastic bags has resulted in donations of more than £29m from retailers to good causes.
It was noted that the BBC submitted a freedom of information request around the amount of household waste being rejected for recycling. It was confirmed that this has risen by 84% over the last four years as a result of increased scrutiny by contractors on material quality and the introduction of the MRF Code of Practice. The Environmental Audit Committee put the findings into context and pointed out that the 338,000 tonnes being rejected is less than 3.5% of the total amount of household waste that is collected for recycling. It also reported that the amount of household waste that is recycled has increased from 9.1 million tonnes in 2010 to 10 million tonnes in 2014. It was acknowledged that, in terms of the STWWMP, contractors’ interpretation of rejected or contaminated materials does not necessarily mean that they cannot be recycled. However, close work continues with contractors to develop regular communication activities to help residents understand what can and cannot be recycled.
The Committee was advised that the Daily Mail recently published a report claiming that attacks on bin men have doubled since 2013, increasing from 159 to 309 in 2016. The report states that some refuse teams have been bombarded with waste, threatened and physically assaulted. The article also attributes the attacks to homeowners being ‘infuriated with complex recycling rules’ and ‘restrictive rubbish quotas’. It was acknowledged that, in terms of the partnership, physical attacks on collection crews are rare although they can face regular verbal abuse. Gateshead and Sunderland crews have CCTV cameras on their collection vehicles and South Tyneside is currently trialling the system, signage on the vehicle raises public awareness and discourages anti-social behaviour towards staff.
A good news story was presented to the Committee around the rescue of a 90 year old tortoise that disappeared after getting into a bag of waste. Westminster City Council used GPS software to track the collection vehicle to a waste treatment facility, where thermal imaging equipment was then used to find the tortoise safe and well.
The Committee was advised that Gateshead recently held a Members Seminar about the story of the partnership, this was very well received and will be presented to full Council. Gateshead Councillors have also asked to visit the Waste Transfer Station and EfW plant and officers are happy to make similar arrangements regarding Members Seminars and visits to facilities for Councillors from Sunderland and South Tyneside.
RESOLVED - That the Joint Executive Committee noted the information