Essex: Environmental chief defends black bag waste strategy

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Essex’s environmental chief last night defended the county council’s strategy on the treatment of black bag waste against accusations it does not do enough to increase recycling rates.

Roger Walters said the plan to centralise black bag disposal at a large £200m Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant at Basildon offers taxpayers the best solution in terms of balancing the need to recycle with value for money.

But Green county councillor for Witham James Abbott says a better approach is to have smaller localised waste plants that are designed to break down rubbish into compost and reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill sites.

The plant at Basildon is currently under construction and is expected to come into service in 2015.

The council’s aim is to transport all rubbish that is not recycled at householders’ doors to the plant via a network of waste transfer stations planned for Ardleigh, Dunmow, Braintree and Chelmsford.

Mr Walters, who is the cabinet member for waste and environment at Essex County Council, said the Basildon plant is expected to treat 350,000 of tonnes of rubbish each year. He said he expected an additional 15% of this rubbish to be recycled and that after being treated at the plant the weight of the rubbish would be reduced to around 170,000 tonnes which would go to landfill.

But Mr Abbott believes this approach is inefficient.

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He said: “Essex County Council is fixated with having one large centralised MBT plant, which will basically mash and shred the rubbish, and 50% of what goes in ends up in landfill or an incinerator. It’s madness that all rubbish in Essex will eventually be transported to Basildon.”

Mr Abbott said a more sustainable approach is to have a network of smaller plants at district level, which use new technologies such as dry recycling and anaerobic digestion and where rubbish is composted, sorted and recycled.

He added: “There are plenty of spaces on industrial parks where these plants could be located and it would also create jobs in local areas. There’s thousands of these plants spread across countries like Denmark and Germany – we are years behind them.

“Compost, plastics, paper and glass can all earn money. It’s a way that councils can raise revenue. The council should be looking at developing the re-use and recycle economic model further. It will generate jobs and economic activity.”

Last month, the Local Government Association said councils around the country could collectively create an estimated 51,000 jobs and generate an extra £3billion in additional revenue for the UK economy by increasing household recycling to 70%. It said this could be achieved through reforming the market to improve the quality of the recyclable material produced by the sector and by local authorities obtaining a better share of revenue from the 26 million tonnes of rubbish we throw away each year.

But Mr Walters accused Mr Abbott of living in “a fantasy world”.

He said: “James has never had responsibility for running a collection or refuse budget. We already spend £19m each year supporting district councils with the cost of domestic recycling. Recycling is expensive and there just aren’t the markets for some materials - no-one wants mixed plastics, for example.

“In an ideal world we could all think of how we’d like to recycle better but the cost of getting that extra bit of recycling from waste can be disproportionate. We are spending taxpayers money and have to make economic decisions.”

Mr Walters added that the Basildon plant is expected to operate for 25 years and that the council is constantly looking at new technologies and approaches to improve its service.