PLASTIC FREE HOME with David Lamont
The past couple of months have seen our black kerbside recycling boxes, first introduced over a decade ago, replaced by Wokingham Borough Council with new bags.
As discussed in this column and Wokingham.Today more widely throughout the past year, the Council’s rationale for this change is that it will deliver an overall cost saving and help to boost the Borough’s recycling rate by ensuring that our recycling (particularly cardboard) remains dry.
Alternatives, for example wheelie bins, were not considered to be viable
or cost-effective at this time.
The topic has been much debated on social media, with somewhat polarised views being expressed by residents. Some have openly criticised the Council more widely when it comes to how our waste and recycling is handled, but as I shared in an article back in March, Wokingham Borough’s current recycling rate (the proportion of recyclable waste that is collected and recycled) is 52%, well above the average rate in England of 42%.
Nationally, Wokingham also saw the second largest year-on-year increase in its recycling rate in 2020 – not bad given that there are 343 local authority areas in England.
Some people remain frustrated that items such as glass cannot be recycled at the kerbside but we are ahead of many areas when it comes to what we can recycle. Around half of households in England do not have a separate food waste collection.
Nearby Fleet (Hart District Council) is one such example – as well as no food waste collection, recycling is only collected fortnightly and items such as wrapping paper and plastic pots, tubs and trays are not accepted.
So, how has the roll out of the new recycling bags been received? I surveyed more than 1,000 residents across the Borough to gauge their views.
Three quarters of residents said that their recycling bags (along with their annual allocation of food waste and general waste bags) had been delivered on time, while 19% had received theirs later than expected and 6% were yet to receive theirs.
I am aware of a particular issue in the Shinfield area but any affected residents can report the issue via www.wokingham.gov.uk and receive a voucher to collect their full allocation locally.
Other than questions around the need for this change and the cost implications of it, the biggest talking point on social media has been how practical and usable the new bags would be, with particular concerns mentioned around them blowing away during windy conditions.
In all, 37% of residents felt that the new bags are a better option than the boxes they replaced, while 39% felt that it had been a step backwards. 24% did not feel strongly either way. Comparing their views on the change, before the arrival of the new bags and since, 36% of residents said that their opinion of them had improved, while 22% said that their impression had worsened. 42% said that their views, positive or negative, had remained unchanged.
Mixed views appear to remain on how the bags perform in windier weather. One resident told me: “My biggest issue is that they are not weighted enough – the second week we had them there were high winds and several bags blew away, creating litter and a hazard for wildlife. Some have never been retrieved.”
Others expressed views that two bags were not enough, that they are not waterproof or easy to close and raised frustrations at having to take large cardboard to “the tip” given Wokingham’s “high council tax rates”.
Many disagreed however, saying: “it seems like a good new policy”, “Contrary to many opinions, I think the recycling sacks are a good size, keep things dry and are so much nicer and easier to look after than wheelie bins,” and “I had experience of similar bags elsewhere so my expectations were realistic. They work, are light to carry and easy to store. I’ve not had a problem with wind yet. Maybe if people do they could put them out standing in the old boxes.”
Pleasingly, 96% of residents considered recycling effectively to be important (why wouldn’t you?) 78% said that they were confident in knowing everything they can recycle using the new bags. Only 9% were unsure, suggesting that the Council has done a good job when it comes to getting this message across. Of course, to an extent, what someone thinks they know and what they do know may differ.
When it comes to knowing what can be recycled more widely, for example at RE3 sites, in supermarkets, and through local TerraCycle schemes, there is clearly much more work to be done.
It’s a topic I’ve discussed at a number of recent talks I’ve given and written about elsewhere. Only just over half of residents felt that they were clued up on what is possible.
The RE3 app, www.re3.fccenvironment.co.uk/recylo and the website, www.recyclenow.com allow you to search and find out how you can recycle and dispose of any item locally and I’d encourage everyone to use them.
Reflecting my earlier point, one resident said: “We’ve recently moved from Basingstoke – compared to there, refuse collection and recycling is so much better”. In contrast, several people held up Windsor and Maidenhead as an example of “a much better system”.
In summary, is this a perfect solution? Perhaps not. But they don’t really exist.
Are we doing badly in Wokingham? Compared to much of the country, no.
Can we achieve far more? Undoubtedly, and we must. The Council is targeting a recycling rate of at least 70% by 2030 and we need to reach a point nationally where we are landfilling or incinerating very little waste.
Let’s try to put the bag issue aside – they are here to stay for at least the next five years – and focus our collective energies on recycling everything that we can and reducing our overall consumption and waste.