A ‘note of caution’ was offered by Independent Councillor William McCandless to members of Causeway Coast & Glens Environmental Services Committee following a recent proposal to reduce the borough’s brown bin collection to monthly during the winter season.
The proposal, made at the rates setting meeting in February, will see a change in the collection from fortnightly to monthly between the months of November and February with an approximate saving of £30k to council.
Addressing the committee Councillor McCandless said: “At that time we met over quite a few nights and we were scrabbling down the back of the sofa for money.
“Now I’m not against this per say but what I’m worried about now that I have had time to think about it is the cost reduction proposal of reducing brown bin collections in the winter season was a condensed version of an original, to prevent any loss of jobs.
“I appreciate that food waste is a major issue and it is estimated UK households throw away over 7m tonnes of food and drink annually so yes, we need to address this seriously. However, this is a fairly recent innovation throughout our borough, I think it’s approximately four years, and I would have serious concerns that the good discipline we have introduced could be impacted with a staggered four month interruption to regular service.
“It took many, many years for the ‘blue bin’ service to be established. A few incidents of food waste being disposed of improperly could certainly cost more than the proposed £30k saving.
“I’m not negating it nor rubbishing anybody’s idea. Now that is reduced to £30k, is it worth it or could it cost us more?”
Responding, Director of Environmental Services, Aidan McPeake said: “You are quite right the savings were reduced because of staffing concerns and that element was reduced from a £100k saving to £30k. That £30k was in respect to savings on fuel which was the only element left where savings could be.
“Members will also know with the recent increases in fuel, the chances of achieving that would be pretty difficult at this stage so it’s up to members.
“We took this decision three weeks ago so it needs to be taken into account. It was removed from my budget so it’s not there, we would have to go and assess where else we could nick that budget up from and I don’t at this stage have any proposals what that would be.”
Councillor McCandless explained his concerns were should there be improper cross contamination of bins it would cost council much more than £30k.
Mr McPeake commented: “That is one of the risks identified. We are trying to encourage recycling and achieve our recycling targets but one of the risks identified is that may be impacted by this particular proposal.”
Continuing he said: “From an operational point of view, it would be really difficult for householders to move from the normal collection to a monthly collection.
“They are used to setting out the bins every two weeks and we would have to sticker all the bins to let them know there is going to be a change of service so there is an element of cost associated with that.
“There is the risk that people may put the waste into the black bin and the cost of disposing of black bin waste is double what it is to dispose of brown bin waste. From an officer point of view, my own opinion is I would rather keep the fortnightly collection.”
DUP Councillor Alan McLean asked if council experienced much contamination with the current service and if a charge was incurred.
In response, the Director said: “In relation to contamination there is very little in the brown bin, you might get the odd plastic bag instead of biodegradable. With the blue bins there is approximately 10% contamination so that’s where there might be food waste or some element of plastic that’s not supposed to be in there that they would deem as contamination.
“We don’t get charged extra for the blue bin but it impacts on our recycling rate which impacts on your targets then.”
‘Sort of agreeing’ with Councillor McCandless, DUP Councillor Adrian McQuillan said: “The important thing for us on the night of the rates setting process was securing the jobs of people who work there and the second thing was the £30k savings.
“At this time of year I don’t see any big problem doing this monthly, I don’t see the hassle. I think it’s worth it to do it for a year because £30k is £30k.”
Putting the ‘million dollar question’ to the Director, DUP Alderman Alan Robinson asked: “Have you any idea where you will find this £30k?
“Whilst there is pain in cross contamination, there will be a lot of pain for us as councillors and you as a Director of your department in which you have to find £30k at a time when that £30k needs to be multiplied several times over due to the rising fuel costs’, to which Mr McPeake replied: “I don’t have the answer at this stage.”
Bringing the debate to a close, Councillor McCandless commented: “I can understand what all of the members have said this evening. I was just introducing a caveat, a note of caution.”
The decision on moving the winter collection of brown bins to monthly will be ratified at the next full council meeting on Tuesday, April 5.