In 2006, Exeter CC became the first council to try to prosecute a resident for frequent contamination of their waste. But at the trial it could not be proved that the individual was responsible and the council lost the case.
Undeterred, the council is now proposing to charge households where it has to remove non-recyclable items from a recyclable collection.
According Robert Norley, the council’s head of environmental health services, without CCTV or all-night surveillance it may be hard to prove that a household is responsible for contaminating their bin.
Nonetheless, it is easy to prove that they have not paid a charge. In future, if a household contaminates their bin a sticker will be placed on the bin and they will receive a visit from an education officer to encourage them to use the recycling service correctly.
“For most households that will be good enough,” says Mr Norley.
Even so, some will continue to contaminate their bin or ignore the advice, and for them the council will either issue a fixed penalty or even prosecute. Alternatively it can offer to clean the recyclable material for a fee.
“This approach will talk to the ‘hard core’ better than any education work,” says Mr Norley.
Back in 1992 the council was one of the first to move to alternate weekly collections. Mr Norley says that this policy has now been proven to work by independent research, which has shown that households on fortnightly collections recycle 20% more.
However, the council realises that the same service is not suitable for all residents, and 4,600 households living in flats, and others with limited space, still receive weekly collections.
Also successful is the council’s education room at its materials recycling facility.
“Visitors find it fascinating, and it’s frequently visited by adult groups and school groups,” says Mr Norley. “We use it to explain the value of recycling and it helps dispel urban myths, for example that everything goes to landfill no matter what people put out for recycling.”
Future priorities, says Mr Norley, are to improve the quality of recyclates recycled material to be turned into new products, such as plastics, the majority of which the council already collects and to start collecting garden waste.
It is hard for an urban council like Exeter to collect food waste, he says, but Devon CC has recently secured approval for an energy-from-waste plant, so this could be an additional service in the future.