Banbridge council responds in detail to bin protesters’ petition

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Banbridge District Council has issued a detailed response to protesters opposed to the introduction of four-weekly black bin collections.

In responding to the issues and questions raised in a petition presented to council earlier this month, the local authority

claims “strong evidence” that the trial collection model will meet the waste disposal needs of the vast majority of households, when bins are used for the correct materials.

It insists it has been clear that where there is a genuine need for a larger green bin, a larger - or additional - black bin, they can be provided free of charge.

Among other things, the council voices concern that, by suggesting the four-weekly collections will see people burying non-recyclable waste in the recycling bins, or resorting to fly-tipping the petition could be considered disrespectful to the overwhelming majority of district householders.

The council’s full, point-by-point reponse to the petition issues can be read below:

Petitioners: “We applaud how the council have achieved excellent results in recycling”

Council: Banbridge District Council’s excellent recycling record could only have been achieved through the engagement of the public in service changes that have been designed and implemented by the council over recent years. We appreciate and will continue to appreciate how householders have embraced the recycling ethos.

Having successfully redesigned the bin collection service model on a number of occasions to date, the council considers that it has a proven track record on doing what is best for the district in terms of waste and recycling services.

“In waste collection you cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ attitude (which you are trying to introduce)”

The council agrees with the first part of this statement, however disagrees with the latter part. The council is aware that no service model is likely to meet the needs of 100% of the users of that service. It has been widely communicated through the press and social media that any householder who feels that their household circumstances mean three wheeled bins cannot meet their needs should contact us for a review of their situation.

The council has been very clear that where there is a genuine need for a larger green bin,for example due to large family size, or a larger (or additional) black bin, for example, due to the need for disposal of large volumes of nappies or clinical waste, these can be provided free of charge.

The council is concerned that a number of those householders who are party to this petition have yet to contact them directly so that a relevant council officer can address their specific needs or concerns.

The council has very strong evidence (not least from the initial trial), that the trial collection model can and does meet the waste disposal needs of the vast majority of households, when the three bins that have been provided to every

household are used for the correct materials. It is unreasonable to suggest that a service model is unsuitable just because it does not meet the needs of 100% of users, especially when adaptations to that service model have (as

described) been introduced to cater for the minority of service users with exceptional needs.

“If people have waste and nowhere to put it, they will do a number of things, bury it at the bottom of the recycling bin, start fly tipping around the country”

The council questions the claim that householders would have more waste than will fit into three 240 litre wheeled bins, given the fact that just a few years ago each household was provided with a single 240 litre wheeled bin.

The council is concerned that the petition could be viewed as disrespectful to the overwhelming majority of householders in the Banbridge District, whom the council considers would never consider engaging in practices such as burying non-recyclable waste in the recycling bins or fly-tipping of waste. Indeed, not only does the council have more faith in the good will and integrity of their residents than those behind the petition seem to have, but there is clear evidence from the earlier trial that contamination of recycling bins has been minimal and there has been no impact on fly tipping.

The council rejects the proposition that the trial will give an excuse for illegal fly-tipping of waste or wilful contamination of recycling bins with non-recyclable material. The council will pursue enforcement action against

anyone who breaks the law by fly-tipping waste; all the more so given the fact that every household has been supplied with three wheeled bins in which to dispose of that waste.

“There will be many instances where the smell of the black bin will be repulsive, nauseating and sickening with every opening of the lid, a health hazard that you will be creating”.

The council does not believe the claim that the storage of waste in the black bin will create a health hazard and the evidence from the earlier trial supports that position.

The council was the first to introduce the modern plastic wheeled bin system which provides a hygienic, leak proof, pest proof and odour-resistant means of storing household waste pending collection. The storage of waste in the bin for four weeks as opposed to two weeks does not compromise this.

The earlier trial has shown that where recyclable material is kept out of the black bin it provides ample space for four weeks’ worth of non-recyclable waste without requiring the lid to be left ajar. It will be apparent to most people that an odour is noticeable when any waste disposal bin is opened momentarily to place waste into; this is not an issue specific to the trial or the storage of waste in the black bin for a four week period as opposed to two.

The council would also highlight that the vast majority of non-recyclable waste that goes into the black bin is odourless, non-putrescible waste such as plastic bags and polystyrene. Even in households where nappies have to be disposed of in the black bin, the council is adamant that the momentary escape of an odour when the bin is opened to discard material does not constitute a health hazard and is no different to the situation that arises when the likes of nappies are stored in the bin for two weeks.

“We don’t want to hear the message ‘You can take it to the dump or recycling plant as it is now called”

The council does not advocate that the trial bin collection arrangements will necessitate the regular transportation of waste by householders to thecommunity recycling centres. The council would reiterate that each household has been provided with three 240 litre bins and will have an average of 300 litres of bin space emptied each week – compared to just 240 litres in the recent past when each household was supplied with just one 240 litre black bin.

The council believes, and the initial trial confirms, that there is perfectly adequate bin storage space provided under the trial scheme so that regular trips to the household recycling centre will not be required.

The household bin collection scheme provided by any council is unable to cater for every household waste disposal requirement. There have always been occasions when a household generates additional waste (eg special family/holiday occasions, purchases of large wrapped/boxed household goods etc) and a trip to the community recycling centre may be necessary. This trial makes no change to that, especially given that excess waste in such circumstances is invariably recyclable and the collection frequency of the green and brown bins remains unchanged.

“Why did the Council organise ‘Information sessions’ that suited few working ratepayers?”

The council disputes the notion that it held information sessions regarding the trial that suited “few” working ratepayers. It would be difficult to hold such meetings at a time that suits everyone; however, half of the information

sessions ran until at least 6pm with a number of working ratepayers attending and receiving what they considered to be very valuable and helpful information.

It was noted from activity on the Banbridge Area News social media website that there appeared to be a high level of intention among supporters of the petition to attend the teatime session held in Banbridge Town Hall on Wednesday 10 September, 2014. Little indication was given that they could not attend because they worked outside the district and could not attend before 6pm. However, it was disappointing that none of these people actually came along to engage directly with council officers regarding their concerns and queries.

The council would also highlight that the information sessions were not the only form of engagement established in regard to the trial. Every affected household received a letter setting out a dedicated telephone number and email address, and every community group across the district was written to offering a talk on the trial at whatever time suited the group.

The council continues to encourage the public to engage directly with council officers on this issue.

“Social Media”

The Banbridge District Council Corporate Facebook page was set up with the purpose of promoting council-related events and activities in addition to existing forms of communication - eg council website, local media or printed promotional material.

The corporate Facebook page is administrated by the council’s Corporate Marketing department. Any comments or queries posted on the page are relayed to the relevant department who will either provide a response for posting or ask for the interested party to contact the department directly by phone or email if deemed more appropriate.

At the onset of the waste collection pilot the Technical Services department requested that any individual or group requiring information on the pilot scheme via social media be asked to contact the department directly. It was agreed that addressing each issue on a one-to-one basis rather than on a public platform would be the best course of action as individual requests could be dealt with in an efficient and query-specific manner.

The council were very aware of the concerns felt by ratepayers of the district on the council Facebook page and repeatedly posted that anyone with a query should contact the Technical Services department directly so each query could be individually addressed. This request to contact Technical Services directly was also issued through the local and national media both printed and broadcast.

The council has received a large number of calls and emails with the vast majority being addressed to the satisfaction of the callers.

“Banbridge Area News Survey”

The council has a number of very significant concerns about the validity or relevance of this survey: firstly, the council has reservations about the “2100 comments, over 1900 of which clearly stated 2 week collections”. No verification has been provided of this count; for example, have more than one comment by the same person been discounted? Has it been verified that all those comments are from residents of the district or indeed residents who will be affected by the trial?

The petition itself acknowledges that at least 200 of the comments did not support the call for the two-weekly black bin collections. Council queries whether the reason for this smaller number of comments supporting the four-weekly collections might in large part be due to a number of factors: This social media site is organised and promoted by strong opponents of the council’s bin collection trial and even a cursory glance at the posts by these individuals shows a clear and vigorous agenda against the council’s initiative.

Given the above, it is arguable that the site, and therefore the survey referred to, is much more likely to attract individuals whoare in agreement with the views of the site promoters; it is therefore unsurprising that those who have participated in the survey are largely in agreement with the site administrators over their strongly proclaimed opposition to the trial.

Notwithstanding the above, some individuals have tried to post and promote views that oppose the views of the site administrators and their supporters, only to be very quickly criticised for having those views. It is therefore arguably

understandable that the majority of those participating in the survey on this particular social media site were against the council’s trial; the tone of the site and way in which it is promoted and managed creates an unwelcoming environment

for anyone who would want to express an alternative view.

“Have Councillors stopped representing their ratepayers now”

Councillors outrightly reject any notion that they are not representing their ratepayers. All councillors are democratically elected by the people of Banbridge District on the promise of doing the best for their constituents; that includes doing everything they can to ensure that services are developed and improved to make them as good as possible – particularly where it reduces the cost burden on ratepayers.

The district’s councillors are extremely proud of the fact that they have led the way on the development of a high quality,high performing and cost-saving waste and recycling services.

All councillors have the best interests of the residents of the district at the core of everything they do. Councillors would be doing a disservice to the overwhelming majority of their constituents if they were to comply to the demands of the petition and abandon this opportunity to further explore the potential for making our kerbside waste services more efficient and effective.

Banbridge District Councillors will continue to consider all relevant factors, including the views and best interests of its ratepayers in evaluating this pilot, which is designed to provide an evidence base for any further decisions on waste management and recycling services.

“We suggest that Councillors look at what other areas are doing”

Banbridge District councillors have always played a leadership role in waste management services. The council seeks to lead the way on the development and improvement of this service to its constituents. If it had chosen to follow others instead of introducing new progressive initiatives, the official district recycling rate would not be the 55% that it currently is; rather it would be atthe Northern Ireland average of 38.7%, which would entail an extra £1/2 million costs passed on to residents through their rates every year.

“The officers of this council..not here to gain credence for yourself, gain awards for your department, etc.”

Banbridge District Council takes exception to the claim that council officers are motivated by anything other than playing their part in developing and promoting the highest possible standards of service to the residents that they

are employed to serve. Contrary to what is suggested in the petition, it takes a great deal of commitment and hard work to develop and deliver award-winning services moreso than to deliver mediocre, non-award attracting services.

“Online Petition”

Banbridge District Council has several significant concerns about the validity and relevance of the online petition which are outlined as follows:There is no verification of the identity or residency of those who have subscribed to this online petition or indeed no verification that individuals have not signed the petition on multiple occasions.There is no verification that the “well over 700 signatures” on the online petition are not duplications of the comments posted on the Banbridge Area News survey.

Given that the trial affects over 35,000 people, a suggested number of 700 individuals signing the petition do not represent the majority view on the subject.

“Dissatisfied ratepayers in the Gilford area”

The petition suggests that the trial in the Gilford area was not a success and householders were unhappy. The council would highlight that the Gilford trial, running from January 2014, yielded the following outcomes:

The kerbside recycling rate increased by over 42% compared to the rate over the same period last year, with the cost of waste treatment falling by a similar rate.

Surveys by officers accompanying bin collection crews through the trial showed: - very little contamination of recycling bins, with no change over the preceding period; black bins were not repulsive, nauseating and sickening as suggested by the petition; bins were presented with lids firmly closed and were 85% full on average, howing that there was indeed enough capacity over the four-week period;council officers spoke with many householders face to face during collection rounds and there was no evidence of dissatisfaction with the trial or indications that the trial was not working for residents.

Banbridge District Council believes that these outcomes provided a very significant evidence base upon which to take a decision on expanding the trial; the supporters of the petition appear to have based their objections on perceptions rather than actual evidence presented by the earlier trials.

“It is also noted that you distributed leaflets in the Gilford area on 2 October informing residents what goes in their green bin and what goes in their brown bin, why was this necessary if it was such a resounding success?”

These leaflets were distributed throughout the district. The overwhelming majority of householders in the Banbridge District value the ongoing efforts by the council to supply information and support on issues such as recycling. The

council believes the provision of such support is crucial to both maintaining and improving performance on recycling.

“Be thankful that we are not campaigning to have a weekly waste collection reinstated as is being aired within Government in England”.

This statement in the petition either indicates a lack of understanding of the council’s trial bin collection arrangements or seeks to misrepresent the position.

Banbridge District Council has and will continue to provide a weekly bin collection service to each household. One 240 litre bin will be collected from every household each week; indeed two 240 litre bins will be collected every fourth week. The type of bin being collected each week is in proportion to the amount of household waste that is recyclable and non-recyclable.

Banbridge District Council believes that the majority ratepayers of the district would be unhappy to follow the example of some councils in England, where the black bin continues to be collected each week – with the Chancellor of Exchequer reaping some £600 million per year from UK ratepayers in landfill tax. Banbridge District Council’s strategy on waste management is to keep as much of its ratepayers’ hard-earned income out of the hands of the Exchequer as landfill tax.