Q&A on Recycling


Notes from the Zero Waste monthly meeting
May, 25th, 2018 at the Maker’s Guild, Guildhall

Q&A on Recycling in Portsmouth with Colette Hill, PCC Officer who manages waste and recycling and Councillor Dave Ashmore, Cabinet Member for Environment and Community Safety

Colette Hill is the PCC Officer who manages waste and recycling. She manages all the waste collection services in Portsmouth (Kerbside, refuse and recycling collections, all the PCC bring banks and the Household Waste Recycling Centre or ‘Tip’).


Q: Question / A: Answer


Q: How about a weekly food waste collection?

A: Along with other waste reduction initiatives, food waste is something we are looking at. Portsmouth, Southampton and Hampshire are in a waste disposal contract with VEOLIA. We usually must do things all together or at least explore them together because it would mean a change to the contract. It’s on our agenda now. We had a meeting with Hampshire earlier in the week, Councillor Dave Ashmore, myself and the leader. They are keen to explore food waste collection. So, it is something we will start to look at.

Q: Which numbers on plastic can go in the household recycling bin?

A: I can tell you the answer but I’d rather not because it’s confusing. Actually, more confusing than just telling you that any bottle shape plastic can go in the recycling bin. So, unless it’s a bottle, no other plastic can go in there. And the reason is one of the numbers can also be used to make some plastic trays and things like that. Our rule is plastic bottle shaped only.

If bins contain too many things that shouldn’t been here, it will be rejected when it’s delivered, and it costs PCC money. The stuff that gets rejected, some of that goes to landfill. A really bad outcome for us all.

Q: Can we put Tetra Paks/carton in the recycling bin?

A: Tetra Paks can’t go in the recycling bin. Our sorting plant is not designed to sort Tetra Paks out. It’s designed for the 5 things that go in there. Paper, card, tins/cans, plastic bottles and aerosols.

They can be recycled in this country, but the only processing plant is in Halifax. Because we’re at the other end of the country, it’s not cost effective for us to take it all the way up there.

Q: How is the cost of recycling a new type of item calculated? Is it merely ‘can we break-even or make a profit’ or is there a deeper analysis of the holistic impact of doing/not doing it?

A: In Hampshire, we share all the facilities, we’ve got 2 materials recovery facilities (MRF). They are basically a sorting plant. All your recyclables are sent, and they are sorted. We use magnets, some hand picking as well and all sorts of different things to sort the materials that we collect. That infrastructure was commissioned in the late 90’s and it was commissioned against sustainable market at the time. And when you invest in that infrastructure it must last a very long time. We’ve recently carried out a project where we’ve looked at can we refit these 2 facilities to take other plastic. So, all the pot, tubs and trays and the tetra paks and maybe even glass. Whilst it is technically possible to refit our Alton MRF, it wouldn’t provide enough capacity for housing growth.

We have been looking at building one single MRF and replacing the existing plants which would take all these items. But the government recently announced a deposit return scheme consultation and they didn’t just announced it for plastic bottles but also for glass bottles and for aluminium cans and we collect all three of those things. A deposit return scheme would impact significantly on what we capture. So, we can’t really invest in a new facility until we know what the outcome of that is.

It looks like we’re far behind but it’s probably because we were one of the first to go. And when we built that infrastructure we were one of the first projects to go (recycling, energy recovery, reducing landfill). We’ve got one the lower landfill diversion rates in the country. Portsmouth has one of the lowest recycling rates in the country though.

Recycling of plastic tubs, pots and trays doesn’t generate a lot of money. So, it wouldn’t help PCC reduce their cost. However, it will help reduce contamination, improve recycling rates. The constraints that are driving PCC are those of the infrastructures, not the money.

If at least one the government’s deposit scheme is successful and launched, that would affect massively the size of any new MRF that we would need. Interestingly, if it does do that we might be able to look again at our existing infrastructure.

Q: When is the government’s consultation on the deposit scheme ending?

A: It hasn’t started yet. We were told it would be launched over the summer. So, we hope that the consultation will be done before that, so it could fit in the government’s waste and resources strategy to be published in autumn.

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the incinerators?

A: We’ve got 3 incinerators. One in Portsmouth, one in Marchwood and one in Chineham. They look after all of the county basically. They’re designed to take all the waste that is collected. They take food waste in with the waste (they are designed to take it). The process is really controlled in term of what the inputs are from the incinerator. They can slow down the inputs and speed it up and all sorts of things to make sure the chemical levels are all in the limits. It’s carbon efficient as well. There’s lots of different benefits to have incinerators. Other local authorities might have slightly different infrastructures.

Q: Would it be possible to have the data on chemical emissions? It can’t be beneficial for the atmosphere, can it?

A: They are published on VEOLIA website.  Emissions are in the limits. It is mainly steam that comes out of the chimney, not actually smoke. It does have chemicals in it.

If you’re interested, you can go to the VEOLIA open day in October. (but it’s already fully booked)

Q: Is there a video of the facilities available somewhere?

A: Hampshire have one, I will get this off them and put it on our website.

Q: Is there anywhere to recycle broken glasses (e.g. wine glasses)?

A: PCC recommendations are to wrap them up and put them in your refuse bin. Be careful to wrap them careful as we had a couple of instance with black bag collections. One of the waste collectors had a really bad injury because of a broken vase.

Unfortunately, there are different types of glass, so you shouldn’t put them in the glass recycling banks. Only glass bottles can be put in glass banks, no Pyrex or anything else.

Q: Can you provide us with any basic info that we could share at the monthly Repair Cafés with people who have items that can’t be fixed (e.g. electrical/printers etc.)?
Is there anywhere in the city to correctly dispose of them if you haven’t got a car to get you all the way to the ‘tip’ for example.?

A: With small electrical items, if they can fit into a standard carrier bag, you can put them on top of the lid of your recycling bin on the recycling day. They will be recycled as part of PCC WEEE collection. Sometimes, people put them inside instead of on top of the recycling bin. That leads to contamination as it won’t get separated beforehand.

Q: When will the city be introducing mixed plastics recycling banks?

We are looking at it. One my colleague is a waste reduction team leader. He looks at all the waste reduction initiatives that PCC is trying to develop. Plastic banks are on the list of the new administration. We are hoping to put some out and we’ll be writing to all supermarkets to ask if they would join us by putting some out as do, hopefully by the end of the year.

We hope to have 10 to 12 banks spread around the city. We are currently looking at where to put them (should be where people go regularly).

Working with supermarkets could boost the number of recycling banks in the city. It could improve the recycling rates.

We try to help change people’s behaviour in the city and also help those who already want to recycle more.

We are all responsible. We go to supermarket to buy our stuff and supermarkets produce it. As a customer you can choose to avoid buying stuff that aren’t recyclable. The more people are doing it, the more likely the supermarkets are to stop selling them.

Q: Why not copying the German system in that way: if you have a lot of plastic to recycle, you have to pay more taxes. The result would be that people will try to avoid the plastic.

A: Some organisations are lobbying the government to say we should have a ‘pay as you throw’ system. I doubt that the government will go with that but they might.

Q: Is it something a council could set up on its own initiative?

A: Waste collection and waste disposal is a statutory provision. We can tell you how and when to present it and how often, but we can’t charge you. It has to come from the government.

Q: ShareWaste (https://sharewaste.com/) is an online community that allows you to recycle your kitchen scraps with neighbours who are already composting, worm-composting… Would PCC be able to advertise this initiative to help spread the word?

A: I will have a look at it to see if it can be published on Flagship and/or Facebook.

Discussion on other recycling initiatives:

Colette H.: Milton Cross Academy has just started collecting writing instrument  using TerraCycle (https://www.terracycle.co.uk/en-GB/brigades/the-writing-instruments-brigade-r). In the civic offices, small containers have been put out in the kitchen to collect pens. The money raised will be given to the Lord Mayor Appeal. They take any writing instruments except pencils. If you collect them and drop them there, they will be happy take it.

Discussion on the wheelie bin trials in Portsmouth:

Colette H.:  We have done some wheelie bin trials, covering 11% of the city, plus the Fratton trial (restricted bags for those who can’t have a wheelie bin). It has resulted in a 16% reduction in waste on those rounds. PCC is also offering assessments to people who struggle to reduce their waste, encouraging them to recycle more. Larger families may have bigger bins or an extra one if necessary.

They’ve knocked on everyone’s door during this trial (30-50% hit rate). Recycling rate has only gone up by about 4-6%. It may be because people are using alternative ways to recycle (charities, clothing banks…).

At the moment, people can put out as many black bags as they want. We are working on changing that.

PCC black bag tonnage has gone down this year. We’re about a thousand tonne less for 2017-2018 compared to 2016-2017.

The seagull proof sacks trial done in Fratton hasn’t proved to be effective. We won’t be recommending those.

People living in a flat front property and not able to store a wheelie bin, may have a restriction on how many bags you can put our per week.

Q: Portsmouth/Hampshire recycle so little compared to other counties and incinerate our waste. Do you think this is the correct way to go to avoid waste or does it just encourage more waste, so you don’t have to worry about recycling facilities?

A: We buy a certain amount of tonnes we can put in each month, if we use them, we have to pay for them, if we don’t use them, VEOLIA sell it on our behalf and so we got the income from them. So, PCC is incentivised to put in as little as possible. It’s in our interest as a city council to put in as least as possible and as much in the MRFs. It’s designed to encourage us to reduce waste.

Q: Do all black bins are going to the incinerator? Do any of these go to landfill?

A: Everything that goes into your black sack collection goes in the incinerator. Nothing goes directly to landfill.  There are by products to incineration (aside from producing energy from waste) The bottom ash is used to make aggregate which is used in Hampshire roads. We can sometimes find metals; some of them might go to landfills. We do put a small amount in landfills, but we try to reduce that as much as possible.

Q: What happens to contaminated recycling?

Some of the things that are rejected goes back over the road to be burned (we pay twice for it). Some of it goes to landfills.

DO NOT put a milk bottle inside a cereal box inside the wheelie bin as it could get rejected at the recycling centre. It should be LOOSE.

Q: We’ll you do enforcement for the people who constantly refuse to recycle correctly?

A: Yes, we will. In parallel, we are also offering assessments. Face to face tend to work really well. However, we only have 5 people in the waste team.

When they do assessments, the team is constantly going through people’s rubbish. Some people need 2 or 3 assessments before being able to recycle correctly.

Q: Are you going to look at issuing fines to people that are leaving trash in public places (e.g.: Southsea commons, beach…)?

A: We’ve been asked to look at that. The Community Warden and the Environmental Enforcement Team can do that type of work. However, there are some difficulties with it: you can’t issue ticket to people drinking or who have been drinking; and you can’t issue a fine to groups of people. We’re currently looking at doing proactive patrol, as it is a deterrence.

Recycling provisions has been put alongside the bins. Some people were still misusing the bins, but it seems to work.

We’ve also been asked to look at increasing the amount of enforcement particularly over the summer in the public spaces.

Q: What about the bins with no lids on the commons? Can they be replaced with ones with lids to avoid waste being taken by birds or blown away?

I will find out with my colleague.

Q: How can we work with children to help educating people on recycling?

A: We are looking at how we can engage with schools and children more. We are running a Tidy School competition with COLAS, and some of the schools are also looking at food waste.

Q: Do you plan to educate the educated (i.e. the students)?

A: We have a list of all the landlords accommodating students and we’re in contact if them. We produce a pack every year for each HMO. But if 6 people live in there and only 1 read it, that’s not really pro-effective.

Stickers have just been designed to go on the lid of the recycling bins (on top and underneath the lid) that should help students understand how and what to recycle. It will be done over the summer.

The Waste team will be working with the University this year to reach more students. We are going to do some follow-up visits. We will also ask the team not to take contaminated bins and make sure they register that so that after 2 times, the HMO will get a visit from the Waste team.

We even go through people’s bins to sort everything out and leave all the rubbish in a black back in front of their door step. Community Wardens and the Environmental Enforcement Team are doing that as well. We have 3 teams working on waste issues in the city at the moment but they are a lot of waste issues…

Developing ‘Recycling Community Champions’ is also something I would like to look at.

Q: Visiting a recycling centre would help people understand how it works and all the restrictions.
Is there a way to improve the recycling centres’ open days to make it easier for people willing to visit? (registration almost a year in advance, names of people attending, very limited slots to book…)

A: I will contact VEOLIA to see if they can have an additional wonder day for your group.

Registration in advance is mandatory. For staff days, we have to give people’s names in advance.

Q: What about a local documentary on waste collection in Portsmouth that would be postcast on a local network?

A: We’ve been suggested by one of our team member to offer people to choose between the fine and an education day. Unfortunately, the fine system we use doesn’t allow us to do that. And there won’t be enough people in the team anyway to organise education sessions. However, the video that VEOLIA of the MRF may be useful. I am trying to get a copy of it from Hampshire.

We might do a time-lapse video with recycling bins to show what is okay and what is not.

Q: What about highlighting the record of Southampton?

A: It might be a good campaign. I also like the idea of an ad going ‘I like this orange juice in a tetrapak carton, but I like this one in a plastic bottle more because I can recycle it’.

Q: Going back to going into schools and the discussion we were having about the university students, is that something that could happen in the university setting, within university’s groups?

A: I’ve been asked to meet with the University and the students Union as well.

Q: What are you doing to increase the recycling rates of the city?

A: We are looking at food waste and plastic banks. Waste reduction (restriction on how much waste you can put out) will improve our recycling waste because it is based on tonnage. So, if you reduce your refuse tonnage and your recycling stay the same, the recycling rates increases because it is done as a proportion of it.

All the top recycling counties are rural, and they have big green waste contributions from their residence whereas we’re not likely to have that in a city, that is reflected in the recycling rate and should be acknowledged.  The recycling rate is what it is but you are not comparing like with like.

Q: Would you be able to attend other groups?

A: I’m always happy to go to groups and talk about recycling.

Q: Some people think foils can be recycled at kerbside, which it currently can’t, when will the council start accepting foils?

A: It’s not a material PCC is looking to target but it may be depending on what happen with the future of the deposit return scheme and what our MRF looks like in the end.

Q: what would be the impact of China no longer accepting our recycling waste on PCC’s recycling systems?

A: We are sending card to China as they are still accepting it. But not paper. There is an impact on the paper industry worldwide. PCC works with VEOLIA and as they are a massive company, so they’ve got market all over the world. PCC is in a fortunate position because we are able to offload all of our recyclables. Some local authorities have had to store recyclables, but we’ve never had to do that. But it may happen in the future. There are definitely issues around China closing their market, but PCC is working with VEOLIA to make sure we have sustainable markets to put materials to.

For the record, at the moment glass is currently retained in the UK at 100%. Aluminium cans: 37% go to UK destinations, 63% go to Germany. Steel cans: 100% UK destinations. Mixed plastic bottles: 100% UK destinations. Paper: 100% UK destinations (but we’re not really getting any money from it). Mixed paper and card: India, Vietnam, and about 8% to UK destinations. And card: 94% goes to China, 6% to UK destinations.

Q: Do you have any idea whether recycling or rubbish from the city ends up in the food chain at some point or can they 100% claim that isn’t the case?

A: The Waste industry is highly regulated, it gets audited by VEOLIA on the whole supply chain and HCC do audit checks on them. Of course, these sorts of things can happen. It hasn’t happened to VEOLIA Hampshire yet. We talk with them of where their markets are, we’re really interested in local markets as much as possible. There’s a lot of practices in place to minimize the chance of it going somewhere it shouldn’t.

Q: I’m unable to get to the tip easily and hate the fact that the recycle bin is not allowed a lot of plastics, polystyrene, packaging etc… if I put any ‘extras’ in my green bin they leave me a note.
Broken electrics and non-perishable items should be collected from somewhere. Do they do any collections from disabled people?

A: Currently, we do 29 slots a week for bulky collections. But they are all chargeable for the moment. I’ve been asked to do some work by Councillor Dave Ashmore to look at whether we could do a free provision for families on low incomes.

Q: Does the council need to provide a quota of waste to the incinerator to keep it running, which actively prevents more recycling?

A: No, VEOLIA just sell it to commercial customers and they’re really happy to do that because they share the revenue with us.

Q: Will the city be looking at split waste/recycling bins throughout the city and in all council buildings?

A: I presume this means ‘on street’ bins. So, when you go to some cities you can put – if you’re out having a sandwich and a bottle of water (or you could use a refill station, we have as we’ve got 68 of those around the city), you can put one in a bin and the other in another one. We don’t have that in Portsmouth. We are talking with COLAS about that. COLAS is our street cleansing contractor. They don’t want to do that at the moment because of the government’s deposit scheme project.

Q: It may be something we could do for events happening in Southsea. We could say, if putting on an event you must put recycling bins on top of the regular ones.

A: They are starting to build that into events. Recently, I got sent a waste management policy from one of these events and I was asked to review it. There were all sorts of things they didn’t do last year. That is definitely a thing that is going through. There will be no straws there, recycling facilities as well, refill points for people…

Q: Do you know if they will be introducing ‘eco-cups/glasses’ (a reusable cup/glass that you get with your drink for a small deposit)?

I will talk with the event’s team about that.

Discussion about the ‘Refill your bottle’ campaign:

Colette H.: There will be 5 additional refill points along the seafront over the summer. We have  around 68 refill points in the city at the moment. Just check the free Refill app (refill.org.uk) to see where they are. We’ve added some city council buildings. You can find all the Costa Coffees on it, some Premier Inn, some independent shop as well, Lush, the Civic Offices, D-Day Museum, Pyramids, lots of the Youth Centres, Adventure Playgrounds…

Q: Is the list only available on the app or can you access it from elsewhere (internet, physical map…)? It can be useful for people not using smartphones…

A: No, but I might be able to put the list on Internet.

Q: Will the refill points be visible from the outside, e.g. a sticker on the shop window?

A: No. The thing is Portsmouth hasn’t officially joined the refill campaign. I’ve sent an email to see if they would provide resources to put on the windows and things like that. They did they say yes but they were supposed to come back to me with details and they haven’t.

Anyone can join. A household can’t, though. But any business can join. All the Community Wardens have a list of businesses to visit and see if they would be interested to do it. We’ll continue over the summer.

Q.: The UK is currently due to run out of landfill sites in ten years, what is the plan with this?

A.: Our contract with Veolia runs out in 11.5 years. They confirmed we can use their blue haze landfill sites until the end of the contract. We do not have a lot of facilities in this country (not many RDF plants or SRF plants) where we can use refuse and items to create fuel. They have got a lot in the continent, but we don’t have so maybe this is part of what the government may be looking at. Things like mattresses are a real problem to recycle because of the way they are constructed.

I have spoken to my colleague in licensing and as part of licensing takeaways cannot be made of recyclable card boxes rather than in polystyrene because of two reasons:

1) Licensing requirements can only be around the sterile food side of it;

2) A card box often will be wax sealed inside so that the food does not sip through it.

If you have a pepperoni pizza, that usually completely soaks the bottom of the box, but other Pizzas do not. As long as it does not have food in it and it is not completely soaked, or oily and greasy, then it is all right going in the recycling bin.

Discussion on paper:

Colette H.: If you can scrunch it up and it does not straight away, trying to be flat again, then it is probably paper you can recycle. Some wraps have foil in it. For Christmas for instance I use to wraps the gift in brown wrap (parcel wrap) because that can be recycled.

Tiny pieces of paper cannot really go into the recycling bin (e.g. the paper tags in brand new clothes or shredded paper) because they would get rejected due to the small size (it often falls off the conveyor belt and gets jammed in). To overcome this, they can be put in an envelope for instance. It’s fine as long as they are sealed because it probably won’t come out. It’s the same with  huge TV boxes. They are too big, they should be cut in half.

Q.: What is the key location for bottles and can deposit scheme?

A.: We can’t tell you that until we know who is responsible for doing it. We will let you know.

Q.: I have been told that Chichester, West Sussex use recycling systems that split black bag rubbish into compostable recyclable waste and very little goes to the incinerator. Is that correct?

A.: West Sussex take carton, foil, glass, pots, tubs and trays, cans and aerosol in the recycling. So, they have a bigger range than us. And black bag waste goes to MBT (Mechanical Biological Treatment) where everything is sorted and separated to divert as much as possible from landfill. Then it goes through a number of different things there is biogas created, refused derive fuel (RDF), a compost-like output and the metal is sent to recycling. I could not find their landfill rate though. It’s a different option, it is not very good in terms of energy recovery. Burning our waste is a more carbon neutral version of doing this. I am not saying one is better than the other, it is different. Many authorities are going for energy recovery systems.

Q.: This is about cartons and other basic items that can be recycled but that in Alton and Hampshire are really lacking. Can we work together to see more plastics recycled?

A.: No, simply because we’ve got our own infrastructure we’ve already paid for and that we are using and Alton probably don’t have the capacity to take Hampshire’s waste as well. We are looking at how we can improve it and develop it over the next couple of years.

Q.: Which supermarket has been encouraged to collect the plastic at source?

A.: I talked to Planning and they cannot do anything about that, the plan is to incentivize it. As I said earlier, we have written to the supermarkets for them to support the plastic collection and the waste and resource strategy may put more emphasis on producer’s responsibility. Lots of supermarkets have this producer’s responsibility and on their websites you might find things that you can do and take back to places. My colleague is looking at this and he’s building up a list of organizations and what they do . We will publish that as well in our website. It’s like the TerraCycle thing. If you don’t know about it, you are never going to do it but once people see the alternatives, they could do it. We have this collection at work for Tassimo coffee pods. Then someone asked me about the Nespresso ones. Nespresso can actually come and collect them on your door if you put them in an envelope, so they may recycle those. And Costa Coffee shops take back any used coffee cups, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.

When people phone us and ask us what they can do with amounted items, multi furniture… we usually refer them to the ‘Moving on Project’ (http://www.the-mop.org/about/), which provides furniture and household items to people who were homeless and are starting a home again.

Also, our Portsmouth Tip is recycling 93% of what you take up and the contract we have got with Veolia encourages them to recycle. It’s separate to the waste disposal contract and t they are heavily incentivized to recycle as much of the stuff that we take there as possible. It’s a big contributor to our recycling rate. Not everything is charged for. The only things that are charged for are soil, rubber, and asbestos, and some bathroom items; If it’s plastic they will take them, but if it’s porcelain you will pay for it. If you take a broken piece of an item that you can’t repair, something that you really need to get rid of, you can still take it there for free.

Discussion on Tetra Pak and the fact that is it recycled in the Isle of Wight.

Colette H.: You may be surprised of where it all goes. Their facilities aren’t completed yet, so all recycling gets shipped off the island.

People are talking about what we aren’t doing but everything we collect, we do something with and take it to the facilities.

That’s the issues around pots, tubs and trays. Even if we build an MRF, we will positively sort everything but it is only a small percentage of them that can go through recycling. And it’s to do with what plastic they are, they’re all different types. So, even if we collect them, I think it’s about 25% of it that would be recyclable because it does not have market to go to. But that would still be better than not collecting it.

Q.: There was a school recently organizing a litter pick collection. Is it something that the city council is willing to organize soon?

A.: Colas do some cleaning, and we got other teams who do some cleaning. We do support litter picks. We recently helped a lady safety wise who wanted to pick some litter while walking her dog. So, we provided her with a trolley and other tools. We’ve also supported a litter pick in the Hilsea Lido area recently. We’d like to work with groups where we can and those who do beach clean.  Groups should contact the Events team at PCC to apply for a permit.

Q: So, if we want to organize a litter picking event, we can contact you?

A: Yes, you should contact the event team  https://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/ext/leisure/planning-an-event
My team can provide health and safety advice.

Thank you very much for addressing all our questions!