Onchan kerbside recycling row

GREEN MACHINE?: Kerbside recycling remains a contentious issue ' and Onchan's decision to opt out of the three-year trial has provoked a fierce debate.

GREEN MACHINE?: Kerbside recycling remains a contentious issue ' and Onchan's decision to opt out of the three-year trial has provoked a fierce debate.

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ONCHAN commissioners have been slammed for their decision to opt out of the trial kerbside recycling scheme two years into a three-year trial.

The shock announcement was made last week, but has been branded ‘premature’ by Department of Infrastructure member Graham Cregeen and slammed by environmental campaigners.

They have challenged claims by the commissioners that the scheme is neither cost effective nor actually benefiting the environment.

And they have branded commissioner Brian Stowell’s claims that the energy from waste plant was forced to close due to a lack of materials to incinerate last year as simply untrue.

Braddan Commissioners and Douglas Corporation are left to continue with the trial, which is being subsidised by the government for the three-year period.

In a special report, iomtoday takes a look at all sides of the argument.

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ONCHAN Commissioner Brian Stowell has been vocal in his opposition to the kerbside recycling scheme.

And now, with the September deadline for the local authority to take over funding for the scheme, he and his fellow commissioners have opted out of the scheme.

They say the environmental and financial benefits don’t stack up.

Here, Mr Stowell explains why.

‘Many years ago, former Local Government and the Environment Minister John Rimington, who was an avid greenist, was pushing for kerbside collection.

‘We went to a number of meetings and at that time I was saying we really need to see a proper study that shows that there is going to be some benefit from doing this.

‘When John Shimmin MHK took over, he and Dudley Butt MLC were instrumental in driving this forward with a passion.

‘It was driven onto Onchan, Douglas and Braddan without much consultation. This was sold to us as an introductory trial period on the back of previous trial periods in Douglas and Maughold.

‘The Douglas one was a six-month trial which ended early because it wasn’t proving to be effectual.

‘Throughout the process Onchan has been pushing to get detailed factual analysis for us to look at and evaluate the whole of the process.

‘The emphasis very quickly moved from – from the Department of Infrastructure viewpoint – the viability of it onto the smooth transition of funding by local authorities at the end and there seemed to be no obvious analysis as to whether it was actually beneficial.

‘At the time it was sold to us as absolutely essential because the Energy From Waste plant had reached capacity and if we didn’t find alternate routes for the recycling then we would have severe difficulties. This has proven to be absolutely not the case for two reasons.

‘The first is that kerbside collection only deals with approximately 1.8 per cent of the overall rubbish and the second is that the EfW is running at the very bottom margin of its capacity. In fact, as a member of the Richmond Hill Consultative Committee, I can say we are looking at finding alternative sources of waste to put into it to keep it burning.

‘We are looking at encouraging farmers to bring tyres and plastic.

‘What we have now is the opposite to what was purported on day one.

‘The difficulty is if you close the EfW plant down – as happened at the end of November because there was insufficient rubbish to keep it burning – it takes a budgeted 12,000 litres of gas oil to get it burning again.

‘There’s no doubt Onchan Commissioners are totally committed to recycling in some form but we can’t see that the benefit that we have gained through doing the kerbside collected is warranted or justified by its cost.

‘To run the scheme from September to April would cost £35,000 or it would cost £70,000 to run it for a year. But that’s the operational cost only, that doesn’t take any of the infrastructure costs into account.

‘The vehicle cost £180,000 but is now four years old.

‘We did the analysis that indicated it was a folly for us to continue. That information was widely distributed.’

Mr Stowell said the commissioners went through a response document produced by Zero Waste Mann with a fine tooth comb but said: ‘We had difficulty in seeing how it related to an Isle of Man scenario. It quoted facts and figures that had been produced in other areas but their relevance in an Isle of Man environment is corrupted and much of his argument was more impassioned plea.

‘We had further debate with Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne who said we had disregarded a letter from waste operations manager John Wrigley. He disputed some of the figures that had been provided. But many of the figures that he disputed were figures we’d got from Keys questions.

‘In general we had enormous difficulty in reconciling the two documents but it has to be pointed out that even if you accept the arguments that have been put forward by Mr Wrigley, it didn’t make a proper case for continuing kerbside collection.

‘You have to see it from a local authority point of view in as far as this was the second trial and the point of the second trial was for central government to evaluate the viability of the scheme. ‘That’s not a task that a local authority should be charged with, this is a task that central government should undertake in order to decide upon whether there should be an island-wide operation.

‘In this case it happened the other way around. We have provided the analysis and not central government.

‘We have analysed it and we have come up with our findings and the DoI is telling us that we are wrong. The whole thing should be the other way around.

‘If this is, as Dudley Butt has said, such a financially sound and profitable function, I can’t see why he is not pushing for it to be made island-wide. It’s contradictory.

‘Collection of kerbside material is approximately five times the cost of collection of normal rubbish.

‘You have to analyse it to find out at what cost the benefit. At this moment in time we can’t even prove there is a benefit to analyse the cost of that.

‘I believe we should find more efficient methods and better methods, both environmentally and financially, of recycling.’

Mr Stowell said work was being done on proposals, that would require full board approval, that those ratepayers who want to continue with the kerbside scheme could do so by paying a yearly cost to the commissioners of £250.

He said the commissioners were also looking at increasing the number of bring banks, particularly in retail areas.

‘A number of ratepayers have indicated that they wish the scheme to continue but they do so under the misapprehension in many cases that they are single-handedly reducing major emissions. It’s difficult to get the point across that the whole process is, at best, questionable and on the face of it totally flawed.

‘Politically, there’s no doubt in my mind that if we were courting popularity then we could just pay the money and smile and kiss the babies. But that’s not what Onchan is about.’

He said the money already budgeted to pay for the continuation of the scheme would be treated as surplus and rolled over into the next financial year.

Mr Stowell said if they were to pay for the continuation of the scheme, ratepayers could expect to see an extra £22 a year on their rates.

He added, however, that although everyone would be paying for the scheme, only 50 per cent would be receiving it because it cannot be offered to those in the rural district and those living in flats.

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GRAHAM Cregeen MHK has hit back at Onchan Commissioners over their controversial decision.

He says the decision is too early and has been based on inaccurate assumptions drawn up in a report drawn up by the board’s chief executive Malcolm Hulme and the commissioners sent to the department last year and to which the department has already responded.

Department of Infrastructure member Graham Cregeen said: ‘The decision by Onchan Commissioners to cease their kerbside recycling scheme is premature and based on inaccurate assumptions made in the paper produced by Mr Hulme.

‘The department’s response to this paper has been supported by Douglas and Braddan.’

Mr Cregeen said that while the department could not comment on previous schemes, the current kerbside trial was performing ‘extremely well’.

‘In terms of factual analysis the department made contact with the participating local authorities regarding the continuation of the kerbside scheme at a meeting in November 2009,’ he said.

‘The purpose of this meeting was to discuss options for the scheme when government funding ended after the three year trial period. Year on year, participating local authorities were provided with a full cost breakdown towards the operating costs of the service in addition to key performance information such as participation levels, income levels from the sale of materials, tonnage levels, satisfaction levels and material capture rates.

‘The measurement tools are all key analysis techniques to monitor the effectiveness of a kerbside scheme and in my view if this information was discussed at a local level it would have provided sufficient information for participating authorities to make an informed decision.’

He added: ‘It is true that the department’s original forecast for growth in waste arisings has not materialised. However, this is primarily due to the economic climate and the impact of the recession which had not been foreseen. The reduction of waste generated on the island has been mirrored in the situation in the UK.’

Turning to comments on the incinerator, Mr Cregeen said: ‘I would like to advise Mr Stowell that the Department has been working with DEFA on improving how farm wastes are managed for nearly 18 months now. We already bring farm plastics to the energy from waste plant and last year more than 150 tonnes was brought to the plant for disposal.

‘The next scheduled collection for farm plastics is May 2011. We have also just recently completed a study of waste materials generated on farms. This has identified among other things, a high quantity of tyres on farms (thousands) and the department will again be discussing the best way to manage this.

‘The department is continually looking to ensure all appropriate wastes are treated at the EfW plant another example of this is the meat and bone meal produced via the animal waste plant (900 tonnes per annum). This was previously sent to the UK for incineration, but after an effective trial this material is now processed at the EfW plant.’

He said Mr Stowell was wrong in his claim the EfW plant shut down due to a lack of materials to burn.

‘The plant had a scheduled two week maintenance shutdown during November with it being necessary to utilise fuel oil to start the plant up again after its service,’ he said. ‘It was not because of insufficient waste.

‘The Department has previously advised Onchan Commissioners that approximately only 10 per cent of total fuel used at the EfW relates to maintaining minimum operating temperature.

‘Fuel oil consumption for 2010-11 is predicted to be 135,000 litres with 10 per cent of this figure being used to maintain minimum temperature.’

Vehicles used for kerbside collections were only just over two years old, he said, and cost £90,000 per vehicle to purchase.

There are three kerbside collection vehicles owned by the Department.

He added: ‘Mr Stowell has indicated that he would like to see an increase in the number of bring banks in his area.

‘The Department would be very keen to see how the commissioners propose to fund this activity based on the fact that residents in Onchan are proactive when it comes to recycling their waste and would fully utilise the bring banks.

‘The department understands how much kerbside collection costs, it believes that stakeholders should wait until the work undertaken by the consultants appointed by Douglas Corporation is complete to understand what impact this might have on rates.

‘It may be possible to provide kerbside at no extra cost. The purpose of the study is to identify this. This is why, in the department’s view the decision by Onchan Commissioners to cease their scheme is premature.’

And Mr Cregeen finished with a swipe at Mr Stowell.

‘At the department’s kerbside meeting two weeks ago, Mr Stowell stated he would be voting for a six month extension to the scheme and yet at the vote on Monday evening he voted against the proposal to extend the scheme,’ he said. ‘To date the Mr Stowell has not been consistent in his understanding of the benefits of recycling. In a recent radio interview he clearly championed the recycling of glass products, however in his paper he states that there is no environmental benefit to recycling glass.’

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ISLE of Man Friends of the Earth has slammed the decision by Onchan Commissioners.

It has also challenged many of the claims made by Mr Stowell.

Spokesman Phil Corlett said: ‘Fifty per cent of the material collected by the kerbside collections is material that would previously have been placed in bring banks prior to kerbside collections, but the other 50 per cent of material is additional tonnage and has come about as a result of kerbside, ie, due to ease of participating, motivation, promotion, etc.

‘The additional tonnage is estimated as being 700-800 tonnes per annum with the introduction of kerbside in Douglas, Onchan and Braddan.

‘The introduction of kerbside coincided with the world economic downturn which has had an effect on waste arisings generally and has seen a reduction in tonnages of material at the energy from waste plant and is likely to have impacted on tonnages available for recycling also.

‘Without kerbside collections there would be a movement back to the bring banks but it is likely that this would be small due to the lack of convenience.

‘In our survey 11 per cent of householders advised that they had started recycling as a result of kerbside. In addition, many who previously recycled may now desist from doing so.

He added: ‘The suggestion that providing additional bring banks to collect the additional material currently collected by kerbside is flawed.

‘This material would end up at the energy from waste plant. Plastics have a high thermal value and would be easily incinerated. However this material is made from a non renewable resource.

‘We are nearing 90 tonnes per annum of plastic bottles recycled and each tonne has a raw oil equivalent of 1.8 tonnes. It takes more energy to abstract, process and transport plastic than recovered via incineration. In addition glass and cans have a negative impact on thermal value of material in the plant and aluminium causes operational problems by melting.

‘The glass remains in the bottom ash from the plant, which government then pays to dispose of to landfill, and some of the steel can be recovered but is of low market demand due ash contamination etc.’

On the environment benefit of kerbside collection over bring banks, Mr Corlett pointed out that the public mostly use cars to visit bring banks.

Plastic bottles have only been included in the recycling programme because of kerbside collection, he said, and the difference in materials collected had to be considered.

‘Kerbside collection requires three smaller vehicles but if these tonnages were theoretically  collected by bring banks then we would require an additional larger bring bank vehicle so I am unsure that there is any validity in the argument that kerbside if worse for the environment,’ he said.

‘Most research indicates quite the opposite.’

On Onchan Commissioners’ claims about fuel being burned at the incinerator, Mr Corlett pointed to the government’s own explanation that 90 per cent of fuel usage was routine, but he said the commissioners had ignored that,

He said the commissioners had ignored independent research commissioned by the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture.

‘This is recent research requested to review environmental benefits with specific reference to Energy from Waste as a disposal route,’ he said.

‘The benefits are clear for materials other than paper but it still concludes that, overall, recycling is environmentally preferable to energy from waste with heat recovery (heat recovery which the EfW does not have).’

He added: ‘Fuel usage to get the materials to material recycling facilities in the North West of England is for plastic bottles 1.6 litres of diesel per tonne shipped (60 miles by road) and for paper 3.6 litres per tonne (105 miles by road) and the boat journey to Heysham accounts for a minimal amount fuel.

‘Materials in the UK travel significantly further between collection source and recycling centre depending who and where is chosen.  

‘While the Island has 19 separate collection arrangements for household waste via local authorities it will always prove difficult to introduce efficiencies which could see the likes of kerbside collections introduced at no additional cost to the ratepayer.

‘However, Douglas feel confident that this could be achieved working with Onchan and Braddan to combine waste collections etc.

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MURIEL Garland, of Zero Waste Mann, has hit back at Mr Stowell’s comments.

She rejected the claim there was not enough consultation over the introduction of the recycling scheme.

‘There was consultation and regular meeting with the Waste Operations Management Unit,’ she said.

‘Onchan delegated its powers to Douglas as the lead authority. There were minuted meetings with the implementation team.’

She said the Governor’s Hill recycling scheme ended early because it ran out of funds.

‘When did Onchan press for a detailed factual analysis to evaluate the process?’ she asked. ‘Why aren’t they waiting for the results of the analysis now being carried out by independent researchers.’

Mrs Garland said of the incinerator: ‘The incinerator is due to work for 25 years and it is vital that it does not reach capacity during that time. Waste is forecast to increase because of greater population and consumerism. If we ever do reach capacity we will have a problem because we are not allowed to export waste.’

She said there was no problem keeping it burning as there was plenty of waste wood and tyres and she denied the incinerator was shut down due to ‘insufficient rubbish to keep it burning’

‘It closes down for planned maintenance and when there is something jamming the grate,’ she said.

Mrs Garland said Onchan’s results from its own inquiry weren’t independent and asked why Douglas and Braddan were excluded from the process.

Kerbside collections could be provided to people who live in flats, she added.

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