The Head of Environment presented the above report, a copy of which had previously been circulated. He advised that the purpose of the report was to provide Members with a report into the costs and associated issues with regard to switching from a kerbside co-mingled collection system to a kerbside sort collection system following a request at a previous Meeting of Committee.
The Head of Environment explained that currently all of Council’s recycled materials were placed in a blue bin and were taken off-site for processing. However, in a kerbside sort system these were separated at the kerbside into specific materials and then removed. He referred to an earlier recommendation by the Committee in regards to a Circular Economy Zero Waste strategy and Council had been progressing elements of the strategy one of which was the introduction of a separate collection. WDR and RT Taggart Consultants had been engaged to examine this and they had brought forward what they considered to be the main issues for consideration.
The Committee received Mr A Thompson, Taggart Consultants who gave a power-point presentation identifying the impacts of switching from a co-mingled to a kerbside sort system. A copy of the presentation had previously been circulated to Members. Mr Thompson then invited Members’ questions.
Members welcomed this comprehensive presentation on such a significant issue facing Council and the whole debate regarding climate change.
Alderman McCready queried why the Consultants had only outlined and analysed scenario 4 and asked if a detailed synopses had been carried out in respect of the other three scenarios to be presented to Committee. He referred to much of the findings in regards to cost and the significance thereof to Council and the need for Council to balance this with the effectiveness of this system if adopted, notwithstanding the current financial constraints and issues arising from Covid. He said these issues aside it was a major decision for Council to transform how waste was managed and recycled holistically. He said given the enormity of this task he would require greater details in regards to the other scenarios in regards to risks associated and costs involved. He also sought comparable data and an in-depth analysis on how this translated and variations of cost.
Alderman McCready pointed out that Council endeavoured to prosper in respect of all its projects and programmes. He referred to the potential for exploitation on something of such a large scale through business opportunities. In regards to references made to taxes and plastics and monopolies by a few companies he expressed concern that Council could be forced into becoming part of a consortium particularly given issues which had arisen in the past in regards to waste management. He said he was not at all comfortable with the recommendation for Council to partake in any financial commitments. He was supportive of the recommendation for Council Officers to engage with central government and seek external funding to fund a project such as this but not necessarily scenario 4. He referred to the need to firstly address how to deal with waste and the costs involved as opposed to identifying funding in respect of a system before having received the greater detail. He referred to the fact that this would be a longterm programme and a transformational change and it was necessary to consider it in this context.
Councillor Durkan welcomed the report as this was part of the wider strategy in regards to zero waste to which Council was now committed. She agreed with the previous speaker’s comments regarding the fact that the report was very focused on one model. She said that while she was excited about the concept she did not have any expertise in regards to the challenge. However, she referred to the fact that the expertise existed within Council’s partners in terms of the wider Zero Waste Strategy such as Zero Waste North West who had played a major role in shaping Council’s wider strategy. She felt it was important to engage them in terms of considering other models. She stated that this Council was a Zero Waste Municipality and was one of the first on this island and through which council’s zero waste networks had access to information models which had proved successful elsewhere. She said she supported the general recommendation to engage with central government in terms of sourcing funding. She did feel kerbside sort was the way to proceed but similar to the previous speaker she was unconvinced regarding this particular model and would be wary of committing to it. She felt more work was required and suggested that it might be helpful if engagement took place between the Consultants and Zero Waste North Waste regarding the possibility of exploring other areas. She pointed out that the decision taken would prove transformative and it was necessary to make the right decision. Both Committee and Council would be doing a disservice if it did not take a more informed and holistic approach.
Councillor Burke said it was apparent from the report that there were difficulties and concerns in regards to costings and resources. She referred to Council’s commitment to achieving a zero waste economy and its strategy in this regard of which this would form a major part. She concurred with the previous speakers in regards to the need to ensure that the right decision was taken. She agreed that the presentation was heavily focused on scenario 4. She said her Party would agree with the recommendation to approach central government regarding possible funding opportunities whilst considering other options. She stated that this was a massive undertaking and would be a work in progress and difficulties would arise.
She enquired as to the involvement, if any, of Zero Waste North West in terms of the preparation of the report presented to Committee.
Alderman Hussey said he would welcome information regarding the implications of the other three scenarios. He said Council was already carrying out an excellent job in regards to meeting its recycling targets and were one of the most successful in Northern Ireland and beyond. He stated that the presentation clearly highlighted that switching the system would prove extremely costly with no guarantees of a greater outcome. He said he did not favour scenario 4 and sought additional information in regards to the other 3 scenarios.
Councillor McCann expressed concern that Zero Waste North West had not been consulted regarding this matter particularly given that they had pioneered the Zero Waste Campaign in this area and presented to Council on a number of occasions. He suggested that engagement take place with Zero Waste North West prior to any decision being taken in regards to this matter. In regards to the issue of environmental protection he said he was intrigued by a recent query from Clare Hanna SDLP MP for South Belfast to the Secretary of State for Environment regarding what assessment he had made regarding the level of staffing resources required for the Office of Environmental Protection to undertake its statutory functions in Northern Ireland. He referred to the fact that it had been pointed out that the Environmental Protection Order when passed by Westminster would apply to Northern Ireland but was waiting for the Assembly to become active which was required. He expressed concern at such a scenario as this would imply that the Office of Environmental Protection did not have any powers of investigation or referral or indeed to impose sanctions and was merely a by-standard body. He said if there were environmental protections then the body supervising these must be able to protect the environment.
In regards to the Mobuoy Road site, Councillor McCann suggested that every effort should be made to freeze the assets of those people who have been charged with indiscriminate dumping on this site. He referred to the cost involved in the remediation of the Mobuoy site which would ultimate be paid by taxpayers. He reiterated that the assets of those people who had been charged without implications of guilt be frozen.
Alderman Ramsey referred to the environmental impact of the additional works in regards to vehicles, fuel, time involved and the various aspects involved in scenario 4. He also referred to the success achieved by Council in terms of meeting its recycling targets and did not feel he could support a change from the current system in favour of scenario 4. He requested that Officers consider the environmental impact involved in regards to scenario 4.
Councillor Carr concurred with the sentiments expressed by Alderman Hussey. Whilst he would not oppose the recommendation for Officers to approach central government to seek funding for some projects he would welcome alternative options being presented to future meetings for consideration.
The Head of Environment explained that the reason that scenario 4 was analysed was in accordance with the recommendation arising from the Circular Economy Zero Waste Strategy. He stated that there were a number of scenarios identified within the Strategy, however, scenario 4 was the preferred option and the one which was carried forward with the adoption of the Strategy per se. He assured that there was scope to model the other options and present these to the Committee for consideration. He advised that the Strategy was developed including the selection of options in conjunction with Council’s colleagues in Zero Waste North West and whilst they were not consulted directly in regards to this exercise they were familiar with and engaged in the adoption of the Circular Economy Zero Waste Strategy from which this scenario had come about. He said Officers would model the other options and other variations in terms of collection system in terms of progressing the matter. He referred to the published data in respect of waste data flow and the DAERA returns for the period April-June 2020 which was during the pandemic when Council had been rolling out the brown bin scheme which showed a recycling and composting rate of 47% for this period. This would have increased as Council continued to roll out an additional 20,000 bins within that period. Council would therefore be hopeful that the figures for the summer period would be in excess of 47%.
The Director of Environment and Regeneration pointed out that as Members would be aware Officers worked very closely with Zero Waste North West. She said Officers were happy to engage with the stakeholders in order to share the content of the report with them and obtain their thoughts and suggestions on possible solutions.
Mr Thompson pointed out that in terms of developing a system to achieve a Circular Economy Zero Waste Strategy the most critical element was to implement a system which was collecting the maximum amount of material per household and was achieving maximum participation by householders. He stated that from the study carried out the previous piece of work suggested that scenario 4 would be the best alternative option. However, when this had been assessed it clearly did not match up in its ability to capture the tonnage required from householders. He stated that currently in regards to assessing the current system against scenario 4, the current system was definitely the preferred option and provided the greatest opportunity of diverting waste away from disposal. He also referred to concerns regarding the potential for the creation of monopolies which he shared in terms of the move to collect materials to assist local companies. However, there were no guarantees that these companies would still be operating in a number of year’s’ time and in his professional opinion he felt that Council should focus on collecting material and ensuring that it was of an appropriate quality for sale in the market. It could then be sold in the wider market and recycled and recovered. By doing this Council was ensuring that it was not tied to one outlet for material but was getting best value for money and for the ratepayer.
Subsequently, the Committee
Recommended (i) that Officers be mandated to seek external funding from central government in respect of a particular project which has not yet been agreed; (ii) that the three remaining scenarios and analysed and presented to Committee in a similar format for consideration; (iii) that Council consult with its Zero Waste Strategy stakeholders specifically Zero Waste North West in regards to this matter; (iv) that Council consider the environmental impacts in regards to the four scenarios.