A project designed to help a council improve its recycling rates has gone the extra mile and helped draw the local community closer together.

Swale Borough Council in Kent covers the Isle of Sheppey (where the project is based) as well as mainland areas such as Sittingbourne and Faversham. Communities on the island often complain of feeling cut off from the mainland, and the project which covers three of the island villages – Eastchurch, Warden Bay and Leysdown – has gone some way to address this.

“It’s brought people together from the island closer to the mainland as they have been the first to have a service that is not available elsewhere in the borough,” explains Anne Ryman from Swale Borough Council.

The project was set up just over two years ago and is a partnership between the council, local scrap metal merchant APM Metals and nearby prison HMP Standford Hill. The scheme involves the three village communities which have a combined population of about 1,500 and was born out of an understanding among council workers that recycling services in the borough were lacking.

Each household has two green kerbside recycling boxes – one for glass, cans and aluminium foil, and another for paper and cardboard products. The fortnightly collections are undertaken by inmates on day release from Standford Hill, who load the recyclables onto trucks provided by APM Metals, and then unload them at the prison.

While Sheppey can be pretty sleepy during the winter months it is a popular holiday destination during the summer. In recognition of this, Swale Borough Council has provided large central recycling bins at campsites willing to participate.

These are emptied fortnightly and there are around 15 sites taking part, although the council would like to see more come on board. Campsite collections only take place during the summer season from April to the end of October. Last October, Swale expanded the scheme to Iwade, a growing affluent community populated mainly by ex-Londoners.

Prison break

Ryman says the prison authorities were interested in taking part in the scheme as it provides occupation and employment for the inmates who are paid a wage by the prison for their services. In addition, APM Metals and Standford Hill already had an established business relationship with the firm involved in removing unwanted scrap metals from the prison.

“Everybody likes the fact the prisoners are doing something useful for the community,” says Ryman. She adds: “The people in Iwade are really happy that they are able to continue to recycle which is something many of them have been used to, living in bigger towns and cities.”

So far the village scheme has recycled around 433 tonnes, but the council is keen to build on its success and plans to roll out the scheme borough-wide next year. Although Swale Borough Council missed its 24% recycling target for 2004-5, it is in the process of negotiating a new waste contract which should help it fair better in the future.

The Sheppey scheme has proved such a success that the only complaints received are requests from other residents, in areas not included, to be included in the project. Residents have also expressed an interest in recycling plastic, which Swale intends to act on in the next 18 months.

The scheme is currently funded by Kent County Council which is keen to encourage recycling initiatives in remote areas, apt in the case of Sheppey. Although funds for the continuation and expansion of the scheme have not yet been finalised, Ryman is confident this will be resolved by the end of the year.

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