New service beefs up Ashford’s recycling rate

Shifting from a black-sack weekly collection service to a new bin system has helped Ashford Borough Council to boost its recycling rate from 14% to 52%.

The new system was rolled out by contractor Biffa on 8 July and is helping the borough to ditch its historical ‘England’s worst recycling council’ tag.

Leading off its £86m, ten-year contract with the Mid Kent Joint Waste Partnership that comprises Ashford, Maidstone and Swale Borough Councils, Biffa implemented Ashford’s first alternate week collections of a wide range of commingled dry recyclables, and of residual waste, from separate wheeled bins.

These replaced weekly collections of refuse in sacks and of a limited range of dry recyclables in kerbside boxes, and are supported by weekly food waste collections from kitchen caddies and an optional subscription-based garden waste collection service. The borough’s refuse was originally being sent for energy-from-waste disposal before the new service was launched.

Provisional quarter one figures show that the borough’s recycling, reuse and composting rate has shot up from 14% [recorded in 2011-2012] to an estimated 52%.

Speaking to edie at a media briefing in Ashford, Biffa development director Pete Dickson said his firm hoped to help the council reach a 60% recycling target. However, he also said that with new trends taking place, such as the rise of e-books leading to less paper recycling, waste arisings may decrease in the future.

Biffa municipal director Roger Edwards said that Ashford’s new service would “certainly take it off the bottom of the recycling league table”.

Ashford Borough Council customer service manager Julie Rogers explained that the council had plans to roll out recycling bins in the town centre, as its residents became more interested in recycling at home.

WasteConsulting consultant Dave Ward, who works closely with the council, said that the “sea change from bags to bins” had helped change recycling behaviours and encouraged people to recycle more, as they saw “how much they were putting into their bins”.

Councillor Jessamy Blanford, portfolio holder for the environment at Ashford Borough Council, said that councils who were wishing to improve their recycling rates and change to a new system would have to “prepare well” and “communicate well”.

She told edie: “You must let your residents know, in every way you can, what your intentions are. Getting the right message out is really crucial. You must also have a lot of people in place to expect calls from residents. Make sure your website is up to date and make sure you have an effective telephone system in place, so that people are not ringing up in frustration. You must also have a team of people that can handle frustrated calls from the public.”

Speaking about the first three months of the new service, she said: “This three month snapshot must be seen in context as it cannot account for the seasonal nature of recycling performance. But it does show we are very much on the right track.

“This very encouraging performance indicates that Ashford will be amongst the top performers in Kent and a contender for the most improved service in the country – a far cry from propping up the bottom of the county and country league tables.”

Liz Gyekye

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