Wokingham Borough Council’s Conservative group has a long history of enabling the recycling rates across our Borough to increase. This includes giving every home a caddy and a bin to recycle food waste, significantly increasing our cardboard and plastic recycling rates, and installing more glass recycling bottle banks across our towns and parishes. Juice cartons, foil, aerosol cans and plastic trays are all now collected for recycling. Our residents have become fantastic recyclers embracing every initiative that the Council has introduced.

Recently combating wet recycling has become a top priority for the Council. Changes in the world market for recycled material mean that wet paper and card are no longer accepted by recycling plants – which is bringing down recycling rates and causing significant environmental and financial cost.

Thousands of tonnes of waste that residents intended to be recycled are sent to landfill because the wet weather made it all unrecyclable. Those soggy newspapers and cereal boxes in open black boxes can contaminate the entire box full and could cost the Council up to £600k per year.

This is simply money down the drain and a cost that has to be met by council taxpayers. We know that you would prefer this money to be put into much-needed services like Childrens’ and Adult Social Care services.

Earlier this year I asked Council officers to investigate options to enable residents to easily keep paper and card dry so it can be recycled. Various options were explored and this evening ( 30 July) the Council Executive will discuss my proposal to introduce weighted, water-proof hessian sacks for kerbside recycling collection to help keep the rain from ruining recycling rates. These will replace the black boxes currently used and would be introduced from September this year. There would be no other change to the recycling service.

The main benefits to all of you from the water-proof bags would be:
• Your recyclables will not blow away with the wind, resulting in less litter on our streets.
• Animals will not be able to get at your recycling.
• £600,000 saving of additional charges going forward, allowing investment in other services.
• Keeping the recycling dry will increase our borough-wide recycling rates, thus helping towards our Climate Emergency ambition to be a Carbon Neutral borough by 2030.
• Using bags instead of boxes will also add an additional refuse vehicle and team to the current squad so keeping our borough streets tidier.

The council has considered other options such as lidded bins or ‘shower caps’ that could be fitted over black boxes but following a study commissioned from independent experts found these are less effective overall in terms of the impact on recycling rates, carbon emissions and cost. Our current black boxes are frequently overfilled, making lids redundant, and both lids and shower caps are likely to fly away or act as sails during windy weather, adding potentially dangerous debris to our streets and a hazard to our road-users.

We have looked at all the options available and believe these sacks are the best option. They are water-proof, robust and weighted down so they will not blow away. The sacks are also slightly larger in capacity than the black boxes and residents can have as many as required – so there will be no need to overfill them or for the bags to get too heavy to lift.

We must work with what is possible. Some residents like the idea of wheelie bins and others don’t – but that is an issue for the future because they could not be practically introduced herewith our current contract or fleet of refuse vehicles. I believe the weighted, waterproof sacks are the best way to go to solve the immediate problem we face of keeping the recycling dry.

It is a shame that details of this fantastic Conservative and WBC proposal were posted on Facebook without any of the contexts behind why this action is being taken. I can only assume this was a deliberate attempt to stir up unfounded conflict and uncertainty; disappointing as this initiative will benefit residents in so many ways. Surprising that the Liberal and Labour councillors behind the original posts are against saving money, increasing recycling and reducing litter.

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