Woking's WEEE collection switches on residents

Woking Borough Council's new kerbside collection service for small WEEE items has proven an instant hit with residents. Nick Warburton saw it in action

Small WEEE items being returned to the depot

Small WEEE items being returned to the depot

Experience shows that if you make a collection scheme easy to use, buy-in from local residents will be greater and recycling levels will increase.

That's what Woking Borough Council, the first of three local authorities to roll out a new kerbside collection service for small waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in partnership with Biffa, has found.

Building on an existing service that collects used batteries, and added on to Biffa's recycling and refuse collections, the latest recycling innovation enables households to place WEEE items in a carrier bag alongside their refuse and recycling bins ready for kerbside collection.

In a simple yet novel approach, crews simply collect bags as part of the weekly rounds and deposit the unwanted WEEE items in special cages underneath the RCVs, which are then taken back to the depot and stored in a container.

Once full, MDJ Light Brothers, a specialist in waste recycling and waste management, collects the bulk loads and processes the WEEE into reusable materials at its recycling centre in East Sussex. Still in its early stages, the early results have been impressive.

"In 2009-2010, we recorded or separated around 11 tonnes of WEEE and in 2010-2011, we did about 15 tonnes," says Mark Tabner, contracts and project support manager at Woking BC.

"In the first six-to-eight weeks of this scheme, we're nearly up to that level, which shows how it has been positively received by residents."

The new service came about after Woking BC applied to the Distributor Takeback Scheme's Local Project Fund with Biffa. Project funding from a scheme set up by electrical retailers was originally earmarked for September 2011 but was delayed until this month, which is when the two other councils, Swale and Surrey Heath borough councils plan to launch.

"Our main starting point was that the funding would need to cover a combination of marketing and start-up costs," explains Karen Sherwood, WEEE service manager at Biffa.

"[We recognised that] the service would have fairly low on-going costs both for the local authority and for us to ensure that it could survive after the funding had been awarded."

Despite funding not being released until April 2012, Woking BC was still intent on an early roll out. A December launch tied in with a number of existing initiatives, including a door knocking campaign designed to glean residents' views on existing recycling services. The feedback from households was loud and clear, says Tabner.

"One of the frequent comments that we receive from residents is, 'can we recycle anything more?' They want more services to recycle more and they want to do it from the kerbside."

With Biffa agreeing to fund its implementation, Woking BC undertook a marketing campaign to promote the service in advance.

Branded envelopes were posted out to the borough's 40,000 households containing a leaflet that explained the scheme and included a pink recycling bag to get residents started.

"The intention was for households to get that pack through the post and then use the pink sack for the first collection. After that, the message was to use carrier bags," explains Sherwood.

"We felt that carrier bags seemed to be a nice symbol about the amount that they should put out. We wanted the message to be put out a little and often and that seems to have worked really well."

Residents are used to receiving the branded envelopes from the local authority, explains Tabner on the positive response to the service. Households know it contains important information and feedback suggests that most people follow the instructions on what WEEE items can and can't be left out for the collection rounds.

Sherwood adds: "From the start, one of our concerns was, would a resident know what a waste, electrical item is? If you talked about WEEE, would they know what it is? But as soon as we had our first load into MDJ Light Brothers,we had a report from the disposal site, which confirms that the scheme has been really well received and there's been very low contamination."

Besides directing waste from landfill and incineration, the new scheme also contributes to Woking BC's wider ambition to drive up overall recycling levels. The local authority is a member of the Surrey Waste Partnership, which brings together Surrey County Council and the county's 11 boroughs and districts.

The partnership has set an ambitious 70% recycling target for its members and Woking BC's current recycling rate is just under the 60% mark.

While electrical goods only account for a small fraction of the overall waste generated by households, every little bit of recycling helps.

"Once you've done the main base materials, it's then really looking at what's left; what can we do in terms of minimisation, reuse and recycling?" says Tabner.

"We are looking at a number of different projects that will help us achieve the 70% target and this service certainly forms part of it."

Nick Warburton is editor of LAWR


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