The Council has decided to trial stopping the separate plastics collection in summer 2019.
Residents would be asked to put plastic in their black bin instead. Should the trial be successful the date for the change in collections across the entire borough will be agreed in due course but is likely to be towards the end of 2019.
The Council does not recycle waste itself but instead relies on other companies to take Swindon’s waste to be recycled. The UK as a whole relies on other countries to recycle plastic because we do not have the markets to do so here. This means that currently ends up either in Turkey or South East Asia .
Blue Plant 2 first highlighted the world’s plastic problems. Since then the Financial Times, the Guardian and the National Audit Office amongst others have highlighted concerns that international plastic markets are not properly regulated and UK plastic could be ending up in landfill or worse. The international recycling market is also closing its doors with China refusing plastic in March and other countries looking to do the same. This means there is a risk there is nowhere for us to send our plastic because there is no UK market for the plastic we collect.
Meanwhile the Environment Agency is investigating the plastics recycling industry amid reports firms are illegally profiting from the market and in some cases polluting rivers. Issues with plastic waste exported for recycling have been highlighted by both Greenpeace’s ‘Unearthed’ and Sky News’ ‘Ocean Rescue’ campaigns, along with many reports in the national media.
Until there is greater confidence and stability in global recycling market, the Council has decided to temporarily suspend the separate plastics recycling collection. In the interim period, we have the alternative option of processing Swindon’s plastic waste through our existing specialist solid recovered fuel (SRF) plant. This will likely stay in place until we replace our recycling lorry fleet around 2020.
Our SRF plant which we have been using since 2014 sorts and dries household waste into fuel which is sent to Europe and used by cement plants, replacing the use of fossil fuels.
During our engagement we received a lot of feedback from residents concerned about how this would impact them. Because of this we will be starting a trial in June 2019 to test putting plastics in the black bin before rolling it out to all residents. The location of the trial will be decided in the coming weeks and the wider roll out would not take place until late 2019.
Are you burning plastic in Swindon?
No. Your black bin waste is turned into fuel at our SRF plant in Waterside which does not burn anything and has been in operation processing all of Swindon’s black bin waste since 2014. The fuel produced is in the form of large white bales which are currently sent to cement factories in Europe to replace the use of coal. All the cement factories are fully licensed and stick to strict emmissions control.
What if I can’t fit plastic in my black bin when this is introduced?
The trial will help us understand if this will be a problem. We will have a range of exemptions for families who need extra space which we will be testing in our trial, however, we will also be expecting residents to think carefully about recycling as much paper, card, tins and glass as possible to make space for the plastic as well as reducing the amount of waste they produce in the first place. Our strategy is very clear that we want Swindon to stop producing as much waste as it currently does for the benefit of our environment.
How do you currently collect plastic and what happens to it?
We currently collect most plastics mixed in large plastics bags from the kerbside. This means we have a very poor product for recycling companies because the recycable plastic is mixed with non recycable plastic and would have to be sorted at a cost. We would look to change our collection method when we reintroduce plastic collections.
Why can’t you just collect certain recyclable plastics?
Changing the way we either collect or process plastics would either be a difficult change for residents, would also involve difficult changes to collection or significant investment. It will make sense for us to make these changes when we review our entire recycling process in a couple of years time.
Why are you running a trial?
In our engagement in September 2018 over half of respodents said putting their plastic in their black bin would have an impact on them. We have listened to this and so we want to trial the change which will help us make sure we are not disadvantaging anyone and will allow us to make sure the support we provide for residents is correct before a wider roll out.