Information, engagement, education and enforcement will form the foundations of an updated approach to recycling in Leeds.
That’s the recommendations of a report being presented to senior councillors on the executive board when they meet next week (Wednesday 27 July).
With recycling rates sitting at around 40% councillors are being asked to endorse a more targeted approach to get people into good recycling habits.
For every one per cent increase in recycling rates by getting people to put recyclable items in their green bin rather than black bin saves around £250,000 a year.
Evidence shows that if everyone recycled using their green bins as much as the best-performing streets in the city then recycling in Leeds would go up by a further seven per cent.
While the council has an ambition to introduce kerbside glass and food recycling, the current financial climate means this isn’t possible.
So instead, the council is focusing on working with residents with dedicated educational campaigns to help them make the most of existing services and understand their recycling responsibilities.
The report being considered by executive board outlines a five step process the council would follow to encourage people to manage their rubbish properly.
The final stage in the process would be enforcement action where issues caused by poor waste management are having a detrimental impact on communities, that could ultimately lead to fines.
All local authorities have these powers and different councils are using them to different degrees.
Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, executive member for environment and sustainability, said:
“We’ve always taken the view that we need to educate, educate, educate when it comes to encouraging people to recycle and use their bins properly.
“This approach, alongside service improvements – whether that’s been more frequent collection of recycling bins, our ‘what goes where’ tool or the bin app – has seen our recycling rates go up but there is always more to do.
“I can’t stress enough how much we want to work with people to help them understand their recycling responsibilities. We feel this is the best way to bring about positive change. In most cases a simple conversation or signposting people to information will be enough to make sure people put the right things in the right bins and avoid contamination.
“However, we need to acknowledge that there are some areas where the carrot approach isn’t working. We’re going to have to start using a stick where people are using their green recycling bin as another black waste bin or where their bad habits are having a negative impact on their neighbourhood.
“What we are proposing is a five-step process where we’ll work with people so they understand their responsibilities and so bins are used properly.
“If we get to the end of this process and we haven’t seen a tangible improvement in how bins are used then we’re reluctantly going to have to start using our enforcement powers.”
The council has an obligation to provide waste and recycling services and residents have a legal duty to manage their rubbish in line with the services offered.
The five-step process proposed in the report to executive board focuses on education and engagement and is designed to weed out problematic bad habits like side waste, contamination, bins left on streets, extra bins people aren’t eligible for or inconsiderate parking which obstructs bin lorries and means delays to collections.
In the first instance, the council will continue to provide information to residents on what can be recycled and where, emphasising re-use where possible.
If households or areas are struggling, these areas will then be specifically targeted for extra support. This stage is aimed at sorting out simple mistakes.
At this point, the council’s waste advisors could visit individuals or communities to showcase good recycling and talk people through any questions or issues they have.
If these educational efforts don’t bring about positive changes in behaviour as hoped, the next stage would be informal enforcement action. Moving to this stage would be determined on a case by case basis in line with the unique circumstances of the area or issue.
The informal action that could be taken is a legal notice under section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, or a warning letter as part of the Community Protection Notice process introduced under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
These warnings would describe what is expected of residents, timescales in which issues should be rectified and the potential sanctions for non-compliance.
If these warnings are ignored or still don’t bring about positive change, the council would move to formal enforcement action. This would involve further legal notices being issued requiring residents to take appropriate action within a set timescale.
Failure to do so would result in the final stage when a fixed penalty notice is issued. Non-payment of the fines – £60 under the Environmental Protection Act or £100 under the Community Protection Notice process – could lead to court action.
It is expected that if the five-step process is approved, enforcement action would be the exception with every effort made to work with residents.
Councillor Yeadon concluded:
“People shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that issuing fines is another way for us to make money. It isn’t. The cost of efforts we will go to to help people get into good recycling habits will outweigh any fines levied.
“The majority of people ‘get’ recycling and we’re incredibly grateful for their support. Some people might still be unsure of what or how to recycle and we’re more than happy to help them get it right.
“But we can’t continue to turn a blind eye to problems that are ultimately costing us unnecessarily and mean we can’t make Leeds a cleaner or greener place to live or work. By working with people we hope to iron these problems out and enforcement really will be a last resort.”
Information on the full range of recycling services, bin collections and recycling centres can be found at www.leeds.gov.uk
A full copy of the report can be read on the council's website.