Recycling ‘criminal’ is not guilty

The collapse of a case against a suspected rogue recycler will not lead to Miami Vice style stake outs in the side streets of Exeter, according to the city's top recycling officer.

Exeter woman Donna Challice, 30, of Hazel Road wound up in court over the shocking state of her recycling bin but has been cleared of all six charges she faced.

While the court accepted Ms Challice’s bin had been contaminated with all manner of inappropriate waste – from cigarette butts to potato peelings – magistrates told the prosecution it had failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that it had been dumped there by the defendant herself.

Giving their verdict on Monday, July 10 Cullompton Magistrates said there was simply not enough evidence to secure a conviction – anyone could have fouled Ms Challice’s box.

Despite the setback, Exeter City Council has said it will continue to prosecute residents who wilfully contaminate their recycling boxes.

“We’re disappointed,” Exeter recycling officer Mike Trimm told edie.

“The magistrates said that because we had no witnesses who had seen her physically put the rubbish in there and no photographic or CCTV evidence they could not be sure beyond all reasonable doubt that she had done put it there.”

Mr Trimm said that with pressure on councils and Government alike to increase recycling rates, the law would have to be looked at again.

“This will make it difficult for any local authority to get a conviction. I don’t think we’ll be going down the lines of driving around in a surveillance van with cameras trained on people homes. That would be ridiculous, you can imagine the public reaction to that?” he said.

The landmark case was the first of its kind and will establish case law for future local authority attempts to convict those who misuse their recycling boxes.

Exeter council tax payers, like millions of other residents throughout the UK, are supplied with a one bin for residual rubbish, and another for recyclables like cans, plastic, cardboard and paper.

People are not obliged to put out their recycling and can choose not to use the green bin at all, but if it is contaminated with non-recyclable waste, council staff send out a letter to the householder responsible. Help is offered to address the issue.

After a second incident of contamination, another letter is sent warning of possible prosecution. The council will send a third letter before deciding whether to prosecute.

Mr Trimm said the trial had highlighted the importance of separating waste if nothing else and seemed to have made the bulk of Exeter residents recycle more.

“Including officers’ time, the trial probably cost the council about £5,000 but we’ve saved at least that because there hasn’t been as much contamination in our MRF (Materials Recovery Facility),” he said.

“We’re getting more materials, they’re better quality, easier to sort and it’s going through quicker. We’re just hoping people carry on now it’s over and don’t get the wrong message.

“The vast majority of people want to recycle and are very happy to do their bit.”

Cllr Pete Edwards, responsible for city and leisure in the city, said: “Although we are disappointed with the outcome, we are pleased that this case has raised the profile of recycling and highlighted the importance of doing so.

“Although Parliament sets the law, it was down to Exeter City Council to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Ms Challice committed the offence. We will not stop encouraging people to recycle and will continue to take action against anyone who contaminates their recycling bins.

“In Exeter we have a very straightforward kerbside recycling scheme which is easy to follow. Every day, thousands of people in the city diligently sort through their rubbish, separating residual waste from recyclables. It only takes one person to contaminate their green bin and we have to discard a whole lorry-load of recyclables.

“We can’t let the thoughtless minority spoil it for the selfless majority.”

“The government set tough statutory recycling targets for all local authorities. Just recently we met that 30% recycling rate, which is down to the hard work of many Exeter residents.

“But we won’t stop there, as there is plenty of room for improvement. People must understand the important of recycling and the positive effects it has on the environment.”

Sam Bond

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