Plymouth residents are doing their bit to fix the city’s waste problem: they are throwing away a lot less waste than they used to, and the ball is now very much in the council’s court.
Back in 2005/06, Plymouth City Council collected an average of 519kg of waste from every local resident. This has fallen every year since; by 2009/10, it was 446kg. That is a drop in the amount of waste created by each and every resident of 73kg (the body weight of a healthy 6’ tall man) in just four years. Add it all up and that is a cut of over 15,000 tonnes of waste across the city. This is a big step towards solving the city’s waste crisis.
Where things are falling down is in the council’s failure to drive up recycling. In the last two years the share of waste recycled has dropped, from over 23 per cent in 2007/08 to less than 21 per cent in 2009/10. If we had kept up even that modest 23 per cent rate then in the latest year we’d have recycled 2,500 more tonnes of waste, saving it from having to be buried in a landfill site.
Last November, Swansea council, in Wales, announced that its recycling rate had reached 40 per cent. That is genuinely impressive, and is what Plymouth should be trying to achieve. If Plymouth was recycling at the same rate as Swansea, 20,000 fewer tonnes of waste would end up in to landfill each year.
The plan for an incinerator at Devonport will not make things better. Indeed, if the Audit Commission is to be believed incineration runs the risk of locking in Plymouth’s poor performance on recycling. They have found that councils with incinerators have poor recycling rates. That makes perfect sense; inevitably, if you can just bung all your rubbish onto a big fire then that is a lot easier than the hard, mucky job of sorting and recycling waste.
The people of Plymouth are doing their bit to cut out the need for an incinerator. They are doing the very best thing they can when it comes to waste – producing less of it. Now we just need a council which will have the ambition to deliver much more recycling and which will give the incinerator proposal the big thumbs down.