Waste – kerbside collections

I made the following speech against an amendment to a policy letter on waste seeking to stop kerbside collections and undertake a review.

Sir, Here we go again. How many pages of old speeches have been sent to recycling, how many speeches will be recycled or reused today for that matter? Well I may be guilty of a bit of that to be honest. What really annoys me is that we have spent so much time on what we are doing about our waste and very little on stopping the production of the waste in the first place. But I’ll have more to say on that in general debate.

I feel I am in a difficult place on all this. I believe strongly in reducing, reusing and recycling our waste. Indeed, I have run a business that has made money from helping people to do just that and set up the battery recycling scheme 10 years ago known as Bag a Battery. However, I look at the history of the waste strategy and what we are presented with in this policy letter and even I can see some merits in the amendments that have been drawn up. 

It has been 5 years since the last but one States passed the resolution to have PSD report back with full costings to, and I quote; ’ give maximum effect to waste prevention and minimisation measures’ and still  several significant costs are just estimates. Indeed, back in 2014 the Department sought to assure Members that it was confident costs would not exceed £29.5m but I expressed my concerns that the estimates contained so many contingencies that the actual figures did not reflect realistic and achievable costings from a value for money perspective. And since then the costs have gone up.

However, does that mean I should support this amendment? Well…….

Let’s look at the targets, or more specifically let’s look at having no targets. What does it really mean? Targets make sense as a means of helping you know where you are going and let you focus on getting there. There is no problem having a target if you understand the impact that will have, not just on what your goal is, but also on the possible unintended consequences and what it will take to reach your target. In the business world the classic example of where goals can undermine a company is where you seek too aggressive a growth target, as customer retention may well suffer as you focus on the new customer, not keeping the ones you have attracted. 

At the same time, you can have all the targets in the world, but if you don’t set the appropriate environment for it, they are never going to be reached. A balance is required. The problem we are faced with is that the targets have come out of nowhere. There is no consideration of marginal cost. This is particularly important when the costs are going to be borne directly by users where they have no ability to do anything about it, such as buying products wrapped in black plastic.

We can’t recycle at all costs but at the same time we can’t charge the earth if there aren’t the opportunities to recycle. But I guess the question is, are the targets forcing the costs? How do we know that the structure being put in place will lead to the recycling target rates? I have seen nothing anywhere that demonstrates that at all. Only that recycling rates will go up if we introduce food waste and glass kerbside recycling. Where is the scientific analysis?

I was strongly in favour of the kerbside recycling trial. Well, I thought it was a trial. I think most people thought it was a trial. Indeed Deputy Roffey called it a trial in his speech and I don’t see how it couldn’t have been a trial if it was being done for free. But we now hear it was an interim scheme. Whatever you call it, the increased recycling rates haven’t been spectacular but then they haven’t included food and glass. However, as we see from the report, there are even more costs to include food and glass. I believe food waste will make a big difference to recycling but there is nothing in the report that indicates what that will be, only the average likely cost per consumer.

We hear kerbside recycling is likely to work here as Wales has reached 60% recycling and isn’t too culturally different. As Deputy Kuttelwacher has said, what does that mean? Is there a correlation between those who like rugby and male voice choirs and those who recycle?

I suppose in the end I do believe we should have a target, if only to demonstrate government’s commitment to recycling. By not doing so we are putting out the wrong message that we don’t care. I do, because I care about how we as human beings impact our environment. 

However, my real concerns with this amendment actually relate to cost. We are told that kerbside collections should

‘cease on the basis of cost considerations’ What cost considerations – cost is not just financial. I think that is at the crux of the whole issue. I am happy for a review to be undertaken if it looks at cost in total and quantifies the impact not only of financial cost, but also environmental and indeed health. Because that is what we should be looking at. But that is not being considered here. 

And on the subject of cost, there is no note on any of the amendments today for that matter on cost of undertaking this work as required under section 4(3) of the Rules of Procedure. Who’s going to do all this work? I don’t see that there is a massive staff structure at STSB. Perhaps it is not considered material and there is capacity to do it, but I would find it difficult to understand how at a time when business cases are having to be put together for P&R to approve various facets of the waste strategy. 

Ultimately, though when I read the amendment I thought, well surely this is something that could be addressed through a post implementation review or reviews? The funding for that will already be included in the cost estimates, or at least it should. Such reviews should incidently, be made public.

So, looking at the amendment as a whole, I have some sympathy with what the proposer is trying to do, but I can’t support it. However, at this stage, I still have an open mind on the other amendments, should we get that far.

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