Melton switches to commingled for cost savings
Responding to deep cuts while also looking to boost environmental performance, one council found that moving to commingled collections ticked all the boxes. Raman Selvon explains why
It's a story that will be familiar to all English local authorities. Council faces severe budgets cuts and has to make agonising decisions about how these will impact on local services. As a small council in Leicestershire, Melton Borough Council has had to face up to these challenges and dig deep to look for efficiency savings.
However, because our statutory services outnumber the non-statutory, this left us with limited options. Add to that our responsibility for housing and children's services, and the council faced some really difficult choices. Intense discussion around service delivery led to a simple conclusion: waste and recycling collections for our 49,000 residents consume around 40% of Melton's annual budget. We therefore had to ask - could we make any savings by introducing changes?
In reaching a "yes" answer, we were guided both by resident comments and by the collective experience of our long-term waste and recycling partner, Biffa. Melton first retained Biffa in 2002, and shortly after, introduced a new service based on an alternate week collection of twin-wheeled bins (one for refuse, one for green waste), and weekly kerbside-sort collection of boxed dry recyclables. Our residents responded enthusiastically and Melton became a top recycler, climbing to a current recycling rate of 50%.
The cost-saving answer, which rolled out as a major service change last month, was obvious - switch the weekly kerbside-sort dry recyclable collections to fortnightly commingled collections from wheeled bins, drop the free garden waste service, and give residents the chance of joining Biffa's subscription-based Green Waste Club.
We found that the existing green waste service made up a large part of the overall collections, and as one of the few areas of domestic waste services for which direct charges could be applied this really guided our final decision. The historically-free green waste service was embedded in residents' council tax, but quite a large number of households don't have gardens and so pay for an unused service. Logic dictated that Melton could cut costs by letting residents choose whether they paid for a green waste service.
Club membership costs just £32 for 12 months. There are payment options that help spread this cost, and neighbours with small gardens can club together. Those who don't want to join can still take their garden waste for recovery, at no direct cost to themselves, to any of the borough's household waste recycling centres.
We knew that dropping the free green waste scheme would meet resistance, and it has. But we're confident that our simple message - we have to make changes, and the changes will make a difference - will win over the resistors.
As for commingling, residents had told us they wanted to recycle more materials - such as some plastics, window envelopes and other materials - than we were collecting. As well as enabling this, we believe that commingling with a wheeled bin also makes it easy for residents to divert virtually every dry recyclable from landfill.
Our residual waste service is unchanged, and we've saved further costs as residents use their brown wheeled bin (previously allocated for garden waste) for their commingled recyclables. Green Waste Club members get a brand-new bin which Biffa collects every fortnight.
There is plenty of evidence that commingling can really lift dry recycling performance. We are quietly confident that the service change will improve Melton's recycling rate by up to 25%. This will help the borough avoid some of the rising costs of waste disposal, while we also receive an income from the sale of recyclables.
As for the issue of contamination, we are confident that Biffa's MRF in Aldridge in the West Midlands will process our recyclables to the required, and market-acceptable, quality standards.
Our decision to change was driven by the bottom line, and in Melton's case, the change will cut around 5% from contract costs - a substantial figure in real terms. Financial pressure led us to this logical, and inevitable, decision. We knew we had to change - and we believe that the way we've done it ticks all the right boxes.
Raman Selvon is waste and environmental maintenance manager at Melton Borough Council