Reply from the Leader of Stockton Borough Council

Firstly, I would like to thank you for taking the time to write to me and I am pleased that your Residents Group are keen advocates of greater recycling levels in the Borough.

This is an aspiration that the Council also shares although there are many unique local factors which affect the reasons local authorities collect waste and recycling in different ways and using different containers. Stockton Borough Council collects recycling materials using bags and boxes rather than a recycling bin for a number of different reasons, which I will expand on below.

When glass is mixed with other materials it becomes difficult and very expensive to sort, due to the small shards of glass shredding other material. In general authorities who collect recycling in one co-mingled wheeled bin do collect more recycling in terms of overall tonnage, due to the convenience to residents. However this methods delivers a poor quality material and high levels of contamination which is then diverted for recovery (Energy From Waste) or disposal (Landfill). This, in turn, costs those authorities a significant amount of money to dispose of as they need to pay transport and landfill costs in relation to contaminated loads which, in some cases, can run as high as 50% of the overall recycling collected in many authorities.

In recent years due to stricter environmental controls, reprocessors have become much more stringent about the quality of materiel being accepted, and even refusing certain deliveries with contamination rates greater than 5%.

This has impacted Local Authorities who mix all recycling in one bin financially, as they are having to pay more to get their recycling material to an acceptable standard. In real terms Stockton receive an income for our recycling, whilst some authorities pay considerably, as I have previously illustrated.

By collecting the material in this way, Stockton are then able to deliver the material to the local Materials Recovery Facility(MRF) in a way which requires much less sorting. It also enables more material to be recyclable as the mix of materials that does need additional sorting is easy to treat.

Stockton has been working with our current recycling partner, J&B Recycling Ltd, based in Hartlepool for almost 20 years so we have been able to build up a great working relationship with them and regularly work with them on improving quality. So, whilst we understand that on first impressions, our rank for 330/345 councils is disappointing, it does not tell the full story on the quality of the 26% recycling which we do collect.

Another encouraging factor for Stocktons current recycling collection method, is that it has been supported by Central Government in the recent 2018 Waste Strategy for England. Government continues to support separate collection of dry materials as the default to achieve high quality recycling in particular separating glass and fibers. This is something which is currently been consulted on to be made a mandatory requirement for all Local Authorities by 2023. In effect, this may mean that authorities that are collecting in a single bin may need to rethink their choice of receptacle so something akin to Stocktons solution which does allow for the separation of individual items of recycling prior to collection and reprocessing.

We are mindful of offering greater levels of convenience to residents which is why, In the past 18 months, we have re-designed the white recycling bag to increase its capacity, given it a weighted bottom to reduce the likelihood of it being blown away, added a paper recycling option to the bag and gave it a fastening mechanism to minimise any over spillage. This has been well received by residents and has meant that we have been able to phase out the blue paper bag which now means that the bag can be used for all recyclable items apart from glass which will continue to be stored in the blue box.

Furthermore, residents can set out as many of these white bags as they wish, so there should not be an issue with lack of recycling capacity. We also make these bags available free of charge from our customer contact centres in Stockton, Billingham and Thornaby to cater for the requirements of residents who require more than the 100 litre capacity of the white bag and 55 litre capacity of the glass box.

Picking up on your point about the ease of use for elderly or disabled residents who struggle to carry these bags to the kerbside, we do offer an assisted collection service for residents who are physically unable to take their waste or recycling receptacles out themselves and this is a service which is enjoyed by many of our residents.

Our Recycling Collection satisfaction levels are tracking above 90%, something which we are very proud of. We receive very little negative feedback regarding bags and boxes and, by outlining the wider contextual issues, I do hope that I have been able to provide you with a wider view of why Stockton currently uses a bag and box for recycling. Although we get very little negative feedback for our recycling service, in our manifesto we made a pledge to investigate better receptacles for sorting to increase recycling rates and this will be undertaken.

If you have any further questions please dont hesitate to get in touch with our customer services team either using the Councils online services via the website or via e-mail at careforyourarea@stockton.gov.uk