Waste management in the heart of Scotland

John B Milne, Director of Environment Services with Perth and Kinross County, which has lead the way in recycling in Scotland, assesses the task facing local authorities faced with implementing the requirements imposed by the Landfill Directive and meeting recycling targets in particular. Mr Milne is also the Deputy Chief Executive with the council and is a Fellow and former President of the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland.

Like every other Council in Scotland, Perth and Kinross Council is presently trying to get to grips with the requirements that the Landfill Directive will put on our waste collection and disposal systems. Perth and Kinross Council has around 134,000 population and an area of over 2,000 square miles. The main town is Perth, population approximately 48,000 and the main industries are tourism and farming.

The Scottish Executive has recently announced ambitious funding plans for waste in Scotland with Jack McConnell, the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament, stating that all 32 Scottish Councils will reach a 25% recycling figure by 2006. As the present Scottish average figure is around 5 to 6%, this is, indeed, a stretch target that will be difficult for many Councils to reach even with adequate funding from the Centre.

The Councillors of Perth and Kinross Council will (hopefully) soon approve the finalised Tayside Area Waste Strategy and this document, which covers the geographic areas of Angus Council, Dundee City Council as well as Perth and Kinross, will give direction to meeting the Landfill Directive targets required for 2010, 2013 and 2020.

I am assuming that the UK Government will ask for derogation, or it will be 2006, 2009 and 2015! I do not think there is much chance of meeting the required diversions by 2010 never mind by 2006. While it is a Tayside Area Waste Strategy, it will be up to each one of the three Councils in the group to formulate their own Implementation Plan on how they will reach the objectives. This is because the Area Waste Group has no legal standing, whereas each Council does have the legal responsibility for meeting Government set targets.

Scale of the problem

Let’s have a look at the scale of the problem that an authority like Perth and Kinross Council has in relation to the Landfill Directive targets, remembering that we are coming at this from the point of view of being the best recycling authority in Scotland for 2000/01.

My first problem. The calculation for the amount of waste that my authority can landfill in 2010 is 32,625 tonnes. This figure is calculated on the 1995 municipal waste arising from Perth and Kinross Council. The total waste arisings for 1995 was 72,000 tonnes. My actual waste arisings for 2001/02 was just under 96,000 tonnes. This means that the 75% of biodegradables allowed to landfill is a % of the 75,000 tonnes, and that leaves the whole 21,000 tonnes difference between the 1995 figure and 2002 figures to be diverted.

Helpful solution? If the calculations were based on, say, 2000 figures and not 1995 figures, then Local Authorities and the Government would not require to pour so much money into diverting waste from landfill. We might all then have a chance of reaching our 2010 target figures. Just a thought!

Second Problem? The actual quantities and types of waste that must be diverted from landfill. Looking at some of the tonnage’s collected now against the possible requirements in 2010 based on waste composition analysis, then the scale of the overall problem becomes even more daunting. In 2001/02 my total waste recycled was 14,455 tonnes made up largely of green waste (10,262 tonnes), paper (2,022 tonnes), glass (1,084 tonnes), steel (925 tonnes) and then the rest aluminium, plastic, batteries, textiles, etc. To reach the 2010 figure this will require to be substantially increased by several times.

Plastic tonnages

If we look at waste composition figures for plastic then the total figure that could be recovered from estimates is 5,643 tonnes. That is only dense plastic. Plastic film would add another 5,069 tonnes. If we then compare that with our actual performance in 2001/02 of seven tonnes collected, yes seven tonnes of plastic milk cartons from eight civic amenity sites. So if I can increase our dense plastic collection by over 800 times then I will have collected that material. After that, I would obviously then concentrate more on the plastic film element. I have no idea what over 5,000 tonnes of plastic would look like, but I do know that the seven tonnes we collected was a storage problem!

Third problem. Waste arisings. The figures I have given for 2010 are based on the actuals for 2001/02 of 96,000 tonnes. At a 2% per annum increase in waste arisings, the arising figures for 2010 will be 114,000 tonnes. In real terms our waste arisings for our Council area have been around 4% for the last few years. This means a substantially higher arisings figure than the 114,000 tonnes figure and therefore an even greater problem in reducing figures to totally outdated 1995 figures.

Persuading the public

Final problem. The public. We, that is the collective “we”’ of the Government and Councils, must persuade the public that changing their “Dirty Britain” habits is a must not a maybe.

We in Scotland are often compared to Denmark, a country with a similar size population but with a recycling and division rate of over 50%. The essential difference is that the population of Denmark is brought up in a culture of reduce, preventing and recycling of waste.

The educational aspect of moving to better waste management cannot be under estimated. We need to sell our product. We need to sell the services that we offer. We need to engage the public in systems and procedures that they can understand and willingly take part in. If we do not make it easy for the public then it will not happen. Our aim must be to make our systems easy to understand and easy to use plus keeping the public informed. If we don’t then failure is almost guaranteed. We will never meet any target, no matter how much money is put into waste management. The general public must think it is a good idea, and once we have convinced them of that and show them that we mean it, then maybe, just maybe, we will achieve the type of recycling and diversion rates we would all like to see.

The Perth and Kinross Council Website link is: www.pkc.gov.uk/recycling/index.htm

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