A FEW months back Levenmouth’s 20,000 or so households found that putting out the rubbish got a bit more complicated.
Just as we’d mastered what to put where with three bins, Fife Council moved the goalposts by bringing a fourth bin into play and, just to keep it interesting, changed around what waste went in which colour.
People were up in arms about it, complaining loudly that they now couldn’t move for bins and arguing that it was all a waste of time and money.
But a couple of months down the line it would seem that the vast majority of locals have taken the bins if not to their hearts, at least in their stride and are sorting and recycling with the best of them.
However, with persistent questions about the point of recycling and niggling doubts that it’s really all talk and no gain – and with the fourth bin due to be rolled out in the East Neuk next spring – we put Fife Council’s senior manager for sustainability, Chris Ewing, in the hot seat.
Why does the council bother?
As a local authority we have a legal obligation and next year the Scottish Government is bringing out a Zero Waste policy, which is likely to mean zero paper, cans and plastics, and possibly even glass and textiles, to landfill.
In terms of sustainability, we would argue that the earth’s ability to continue producing virgin materials is finite. In our own small way we need to make better use of resources that could otherwise be dumped in a hole in the ground.
What are the financial implications of not recycling?
There’s a landfill tax that costs us £56 for every tonne of waste going to landfill – Fife currently sends 120,000 tonnes a year to landfill, costing £6.7 million in landfill tax – and that tax is going to rise to £80 per tonne in a few years.
Do we make any money from recycling?
It depends on the value of the individual commodities but recycling has already brought in £2.5 million this year. As virgin raw materials become more scarce, the demand for recyclable materials increases and they become more valuable. For example, the value of plastics for recycling has never been higher.
But doesn’t it just cost more money to do?
In terms of the collection system, there’s not a lot of difference and the operational costs are broadly similar but we save on landfill tax.
How do we compare to other countries and areas?
Countries such as Germany and Belgium are ahead but they have been doing it for longer. In Scotland, Fife has the third highest recycling rate and we’re in the top quarter in the UK.
What is our recycling rate?
In the areas with four bins, which is about a third of Fife households at the moment, recycling rates are up to 65%.
Is that good?
Yes, although as a whole in Fife, we’re at about 52%. The national targets are 50% recycled by 2013, 60% by 2020 and only 5% to landfill by 2025 – Fife’s own targets are higher at 60% recycled by 2013 and 0% to landfill by 2020.
What about houses with small gardens or flats where you can’t move for bins outside?
We have recycling advisers who can visit and look at different options, for example neighbours sharing bins or communal bins. Our aim is to reach an accommodation that works.
What about the cardboard that gets shipped out to China – isn’t that just using more energy and carbon getting it there?
These are not special journeys being made to take the cardboard. The are ships come here laden with containers and are looking for back loads for the return trip – they would still be going back, with or without the cardboard.
Is anything that we put in the bins recycled locally?
In areas with only three bins, the green garden waste – 30,000 tonnes a year - is nearly all recycled at Lower Melville Wood by Ladybank and at Lochead near Dunfermline. The mixed food and garden waste from the four-bin system currently goes to a plant in Perth which can treat the food waste.
The finished product is still used by farmers in Fife for growing crops, which include raw material for Diageo and Quaker Oats in Fife.
We’re also developing a renewable power plant that would use the mixed food and garden waste to create power, with the potential to be used for heating and cooling Queen Margaret Hospital, Dunfermline.
Where there’s muck, there’s brass
THE old saying “where there’s muck there’s brass” is an apt one when it comes to what we throw out in our bins.
In areas where households sort out their rubbish into the four bins, recycling rates have been shown to far exceed the national average – and as a result bring in extra cash for the council.
But what happens to it once it leaves your bin or one of the council recycling points?
Paper and cardboard – all the paper-based materials collected go to a Kirkcaldy company to be baled as a mixed grade, which is then taken to a mill in Shotton where it’s sorted into paper and card/cardboard. The paper is used for newsprint and the card/cardboard is exported to China to be made into new cardboard for packaging. Plastics and cans – these go to a company in Hartlepool. Here they are sorted into different waste streams, plastics and ferrous and non-ferrous. The plastics are then further streamed into the two main categories – polyethylene and PET – and then sold to reprocessors. The ferrous materials go to steel producer Corus and the aluminium is sold to Alcan.
Kitchen and garden waste – in areas with only garden waste, it is taken to the council’s own two composting centres at Lower Melville Wood and Lochhead. Mixed kitchen and garden waste is currently taken to a treatment plant in Perth, where it is turned into a composting material.
Glass– goes to company in Alloa where it is crushed, melted and made into new glass. Clear and brown glass commands a higher price because there is less of it.