Veolia and GMB clash over ‘false’ recycling diversion claims

Resource management firm Veolia has labelled accusations from general trade union GMB that the company was deliberately sending recyclable household waste to incinerators as "false and entirely incorrect".

Veolia issued a response to GMB’s open letter to the firm, which claimed that Veolia bosses were diverting recycling in Sheffield to incinerators. GMB said the “scandal” had caused Sheffield’s recycling rates to “plummet”, but Veolia’s regional director for the North Philip Gilmour, has denied the claims.

“I can confirm that the GMB statement regarding recyclable materials from Sheffield’s Household Waste Recycling Centres is false and entirely incorrect,” Gilmour said in a statement. “Veolia has not instructed any of the Sheffield HWRC contractors to dispose of recyclable material.

“The HWRC service in Sheffield is geared towards high levels of recycling and there have always been recycling targets that the service providers are targeted to achieve. This year’s recycling rate from our HWRCs is already 2% above last year’s impressive achievement and we would like to thank residents for their continued efforts to support recycling in Sheffield.”

GMB had been shown an email from senior Veolia staff members, which suggested that an increasing diversion of waste from the facilities to a Veolia energy-from-waste (ERF) incinerator had led to “year on year” reductions in the region’s recycling rate since 2011.

GMB’s senior organiser Peter Davies labelled the revelations in the email as an “obvious conflict of interest” that was leading to Veolia “adding to pollution and avoiding paying our members any bonus at the same time”.

But Veolia has reviewed the leaked email, claiming that there is “no such instruction” to divert recyclable waste in that document. Veolia has asked the Union to clarify its claims as a matter of urgency.

According to GMB, Veolia’s contract with Sheffield City Council must comply with Environment Agency (EA) regulations and recycle as much household waste as can be reasonably achieved.

However, Veolia has previously sought to source an extra 50,000 tonnes of residual waste for its Sheffield-based incinerator, due to under-capacity concerns.

While GMB accept that burning waste in the incinerator is a “good model for the city”, it has called on Sheffield City Council and Veolia to be transparent about contractual requirements. In response, Veolia says it “welcomes the opportunity” to speak with GMB to clarify the matter.

ERF blueprints

Veolia runs a similar recycling operation in Leeds. An 11MW ERF facility was opened last year, and extracts recyclable waste from black bins collected by Leeds City Council. Energy is then recovered from what waste is left over, with the ability to manage up to 214,000 tonnes of waste each year.

The plant will generate enough electricity to power 22,000 homes via the National Grid and will boost Leeds’ recycling rates in its aim of becoming a zero-waste city.

Veolia had previously released a report which revealed that companies located in “strategically important” sectors in the UK are currently sitting on a £4bn “hidden mine” that can only be unlocked by transitioning to a circular economy that turns waste into a monetary and valuable resource.

Matt Mace

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