Recycling flat lining while costs soar

Over the past five to 10 years a great amount of funding has been spent aimed at helping residents increase recycling rates.

This isn’t solely about caring for our environment, although that clearly is important; it’s also the financially sound way to manage the limited resources we have as a borough.

Whenever we put rubbish into the black wheelie bin a large number of people believe the only cost incurred is that of sending the bin waggon to collect it. But of course it has to go somewhere.

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Landfill costs have increased dramatically and will continue to go up as the government use the ‘Landfill tax levy’ as a financial deterrent against local councils, to push up recycling rates. So, even if we owned our own landfill site we’d still pay the tax to government.

So, even if we were to recycle at the same rate – the cost of what we do send to landfill goes up, and up, and up. And we are not talking small sums of money.

Last year we sent 39,637 tonnes of household waste to landfill at a cost of £270 a tonne. That’s a whopping £10,701,990 – almost £11m!

To put that into context the whole ‘Neighbourhood Services’ department budget, which pays for street cleaning, libraries, community centres, parks and countryside services, street lighting, road maintenance – so everything you see – was £14m in total.

So if we increase recycling (or even just stopped producing waste in the first place) we would save the town a serious amount of money which we can use to offset the cuts to council services from central government. And that surely is a better option?

With recycling rates now at 37 per cent (down two per cent on the previous year) we can and must do better as a community. If we can increase that by just five per cent we will save more than £500,000 – and that could make a real difference. For instance it would pay for all our district libraries.

We know that the current system can take a while to understand – what exactly can you recycle? I was baffled when I was told yogurt pots couldn’t be included.

But it isn’t impossible to understand, it just takes a moment to get used to the system.

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We’ve invested in the containers – people can’t say they don’t have enough bins – and we’ve invested in a reliable collection service which aims for 100 per cent collection rates.

Clearly that isn’t always possible, due to a host of reasons, including parked vehicles or human error, but we are not far off.

We’re working with Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority to get the information out to communities and we are also taking the messages into schools so our pupils are educated from an early age.

We’ve invested in enforcement – we’re not fining people for leaving bin lids open more than 45 degrees, but persistent offenders who believe that they can fill two to three bins to the brim with waste they haven’t bothered to separate, effectively creating two or three  ‘black bins’.

We try to educate before taking enforcement action and we have seen real improvements with our ‘Changing Behaviours’ programme.

Of course not all waste has to come to the council for recycling. Increasingly the ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ message is beginning to come through more and more.

Websites like Oldham Freecycle let residents’ list items for free so that others who can get use out of them will come and collect. I’ve used the site and without fail the goods have been collected within hours – quicker than a bulky goods collection could have taken.

The government does need to do far more than simply punish communities with landfill taxes. One of the biggest generators of waste are our very wealthy supermarkets which continue to over package food.

They claim consumers now expect fruit and veg to look neat and pretty, I think that’s a poor excuse.

Perhaps a ‘landfill generator’ tax to supermarkets would focus minds?

Until then we’ve got to do what we can to reduce the cost to Oldham. Now some of course will say ‘that’s what I pay my council tax for’, which of course is true.

But it makes no more sense than it would to turn your heating on full blast and leave all your windows and doors wide open. You could do it, but it makes no sense.

If we all recycle more that will save money and that could have a big impact when we are forced to look at cutting services our communities rely on. Surely this has got to be an easy win?

You can find out more about recycling across Greater Manchester at http://www.recycleforgreatermanchester.com/

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Council Tax and Landfill Tax

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LANDFILL – Landfill Tax on Local Authorities has increased from £24 a tonne to £80 since 2008. The Local Government Association is campaigning for it to be frozen.

MOST residents will have received their annual Council Tax bills by now – and there are two concerns that I want to address.

Before doing so, I must start by agreeing wholeheartedly that the way we explain the breakdown of your Council Tax increases is confusing.

The first query that has been raised is why the published overall increase (including levies and precepts – see below for explanation) was 3.5 per cent, yet the Council Tax bill states the total increase is 3.7 per cent?

The difference between these two figures is simply due to the slightly-higher increases that have come back from precept authorities: in this case Greater Manchester Police and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue.

The second query I’ve been asked is why the Oldham Council element of the increase was published as being 2 per cent, yet it is shown as being 3.5 per cent?

This is because the Council Tax element also includes charges from the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester.

The actual increase in Oldham Council services was 1.9 per cent.

It’s understandable that residents believe ‘the council’ has increased the Council Tax by 3.7 per cent, because that’s exactly what the bill says, but in cash terms that isn’t the case.

If you look at your bill you will see mention of ‘precepts’ and levies’. In layman’s terms, ‘precepts’ are the charges from the police and fire services. Both are separated from the ‘Council Tax’ element when it appears on your bill.

The ‘levies’ are the Greater Manchester charges for waste and transport services. Both are included in the ‘Council Tax’ element when it appears on your bill. These are collected and then passed on – they are not used for Oldham Council services.

All of which now brings me to the main point of this week’s blog – waste disposal.

The Local Government Association has been campaigning to freeze the landfill tax which local councils pay.

This isn’t because councils don’t want to recycle – we do, but it takes massive investment to increase recycling rates.

That might have been possible when times were good, but it’s extremely difficult when our budgets have been slashed to the tune of over 30 per cent, and with more to come.

We have a record to be proud of here in Oldham.

From a low starting point in 2008 we have increased recycling from 15 per cent to 40 per cent through a combination of ‘alternative weekly collections’, plus investment in new bins and campaigns.

The landfill tax has increased from £24 a tonne to £80 a tonne since 2008.

Simply taxing the local councils without investment in campaigning is nonsense.

It‘s quite ironic that the Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles, is so keen to return to weekly ‘black bin’ collections when there is strong evidence that this doesn’t actually encourage diversion of waste from landfill or recycling at all.

Surely a far better use of the £250m grant on offer would have been to freeze the inflation busting 11 per cent increase in landfill tax – and allow councils to instead invest in increased recycling and work to support the reduction of greenhouse gases?

This isn’t a political point but of the 326 councils in England just one has applied to restore their weekly bin collections. That means 325 councils with varied political control all thought better of the idea. 

Mr Pickles needs to work harder on a coherent plan for dealing with waste and increasing recycling.

Yet when local councils take the initiative – such as the nine members of the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority – we come under attack from the very same government department.

As part of our plan to create a sustainable waste plan for our City Region a £3.8bn investment was needed to replace our crumbling waste infrastructure.

This included the construction of 43 new facilities plus a new Combined Heat and Power Plant to be built at Runcorn.

Under this contract we are guaranteed at least 50 per cent recycling rates and the diversion of 75 per cent of waste from landfill.

To fund this we knew that upfront investment was needed, which created a 14.15 per cent increase in the waste element of Council Tax in Oldham.

This, however, is ‘upfront’ so that by 2015 the increase is forecast to be 1.98 per cent. As landfill taxes continue to increase, the investment would then pay off as it means we don’t need to pay a premium for waste treatment.

Rather than acknowledge the foresight in planning ahead and investing in facilities for future generations that reduce landfill costs and environmental damage, the plans came under what I believe was a misjudged and poorly-briefed attack.

Mr Pickles’ labelled the Waste Disposal Authority increase as “forced up by a botched PFI deal signed by the unelected Waste Authority”. This “shoddy” deal, he claimed, by a “shadowy, unelected body” had caused a “double whammy of both fortnightly bin collections for some of its residents and higher taxes”.

That is wrong.

Each of the nine councils in Greater Manchester who are part of the Waste Disposal Authority all have elected councillors on the board.

All the papers are published online and a copy is included on the main council agenda here in Oldham.

Residents can attend the meetings and have done so to present petitions.

That is a level of transparency that others could perhaps learn from.

As ever on recycling, though, it’s ultimately over to the people of Oldham to continue to do your bit.

Your efforts have already taken us to an impressive fourth in Greater Manchester in terms of our recycling rates.

But if we could all increase our recycling further by just 10 per cent each, we could all save an estimated £1.6 million a year.

That’s a significant sum that would help to fund vital frontline services at a time when budgets continue to be slashed.

Thanks for listening,

Jim