Households across Lancashire are set to see a huge expansion in the amount of plastic which can be recycled in their domestic waste by the end of the year.
Currently, only certain types of plastic bottle are permitted in the county’s residential recycling bins.
However, the new system will mean pots, tubs and trays also become part of the kerbside collections across the county.
The packaging - used for the likes of yoghurt, margarine and fresh meat - has recently been accepted if it is deposited directly by householders at any of Lancashire County Council’s 15 waste recycling centres.
READ MORE >>> Lancashire recycling centres to reduce opening hours
The changes follow a report by a task group of county councillors which called for a series of measures to reduce single-use plastics in Lancashire.
A meeting of the authority’s internal scrutiny committee heard that work is now underway to adapt the council’s waste recovery plant at Farington near Leyland, so that it can accept a wider range of plastic material.
“It’s all doable, but it just takes a bit of time,” said William Maxwell, waste service development manager.
“We need to change the picking lines, get more sorting bins and find out if [recyclers] are prepared to buy [the plastic] off us at the same price as sending it to landfill.
“But it’s good news, because it keeps it out of the general waste bin, which does largely go into the ground [and] is not a good solution for plastics,” he added.
READ MORE >>> Balloon ban proposed for council-owned land
A major public information campaign is being planned to advise residents of the changes to the system - which one committee member said currently causes “frustration” amongst those with good intentions.
“It seems to me that [there are] more restrictions about recycling than ever before - but that’s partly because we have more plastics,” County Cllr Anne Cheetham said.
“Joe Public look at their plastic container, they see the little triangle [symbol] and say, ‘Ah, this is for recycling’. But the small print [says] it’s not always suitable.
“We are getting the wrong messages sometimes.”
The council’s communications boss, Ginette Unsworth, said that the authority would work with district councils - which collect rubbish in their own areas - to help residents navigate “a difficult landscape”.
“We’ve already got a good webpage which explains what you can and can’t do. Once we introduce this [new system], social media will be the biggest place to put those messages out there and also create videos [on the subject],” she said.
The meeting also heard that the recycling of so-called “hard plastics”, like toys and garden furniture, has now been reintroduced at household waste centres. The county council had to stop accepting the items last year after recycling companies refused to purchase them from the authority, claiming they were too often mixed with other materials.
Under a revamped system, residents depositing bulky plastics at recycling centres now have to get them inspected by a member of staff, so that any non-plastic parts can be removed if necessary.
The authority is now investigating ways to make the plastic it collects more appealing to companies in the recycling market. That could include ensuring that it is sufficiently clean to be sent for re-use.
Another recommendation made by the task group was for County Hall to encourage its contractors to seek alternatives to single-use plastic products - a suggestion which officers say will become a key component of future business decisions.
“As contracts are expiring, [we] are changing the specifications and making it a contractual requirement on suppliers to reduce and, wherever possible, eliminate single-use plastics,” said Rachel Tanner, the county council’s head of procurement.
Recalling a recycling age gone by, committee member John Fillis said the focus of any changes should be on producers as well as users.
“I’m of the generation where we were recycling before we even knew we were recycling - I remember the rag and bone man and getting half a penny back on a bottle.
“But if we’re going to make real progress, we need to be supporting legislation...to prevent manufacturers producing non-recyclable goods. The best savings would be at the other end [of the process] if manufacturers produced goods...that don’t need that much packaging,” County Cllr Fillis said.
Speaking after the meeting, task group chair Gina Dowding - the lone Green Party representative on Lancashire County Council - welcomed the expansion of plastic recycling in the region.
“I know that Lancashire residents will be delighted to hear that the county has been able to sort out a system whereby people can recycle more types of plastic from home. Of course, we will continue to press for action to reduce the amount of plastic in the system overall,” she said.
District authorities will continue to be responsible for waste collection under the new arrangements, while the county council’s role will remain as the disposer of the rubbish.
The standalone council in Blackburn with Darwen already collects pots, tubs and trays from household recycling, but fellow unitary authority Blackpool Council does not.
A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: “We are working towards integrating pots, tubs and trays into doorstep collections later in the year.
"Already, all plastics for which there are recycling markets are accepted at household waste recycling centres and this new move will further increase the amount of plastic recycled in the county.”
'DO AS WE DO'
The doorstep recycling overhaul is just one of several initiatives which County Hall has come up with to reduce plastics - not least on its own premises.
Plastic cups have been eradicated from meeting rooms and fruit and veg distributed to Lancashire schools is now placed in plastic trays only if it is soft and requires protection.
Meanwhile, the catering department at the council has replaced 15 out of the 20 single-use plastic products which it had been using.
“We are hoping to change [the remainder] by the end of this financial year - however, we are dependent on the manufacturing supply chain,” said Clare Joynson, head of facilities management.
“The response we have had from suppliers...has been extremely positive. The media coverage of [plastic pollution] was such that most suppliers were overwhelmed by [their] customer base wanting alternatives.”
The authority has also accepted further recommendations from its single-use plastics task group, including the promotion of plastic reduction in schools and businesses across the county.
'BALLOON PLEDGE MUST NOT BE POPPED'
A recommendation from the single-use plastics task group to outlaw the release of balloons and sky lanterns from council-owned land and buildings was met with a cooler response than many of its other suggestions.
A report to Lancashire County Council’s internal scrutiny committee said that the “practicalities” of such a move would have to be explored, because of the “obvious difficulty” of enforcing any ban.
Committee member David Whipp said that the council should be able to do more to control what he called “aerial litter” emanating from its own land.
The council’s response did indicate that it would be possible to prohibit the use of balloons during organised events and deputy council leader Albert Atkinson promised to look at the issue again.
“I agree [that helium balloons are a problem]. Farmers don’t like [balloons coming onto their land] and Chinese lanterns can start fires,” he said.
AHEAD OF THE GAME?
The plastic recycling revolution being promised in Lancashire could eventually come to the rest of England.
The government last week completed a series of consultations into the future of waste collection - and could insist that councils recycle a minimum number of materials within the next five years. These core collectables would include the pots, tubs and trays which Lancashire County Council is to accept in its doorstep waste by the end of the year.
It is also expected that national legislation could introduce mandatory food waste collections, which are currently offered by only half of councils in England - and none in Lancashire.
Local authorities would still be able to choose the colour of their bins under the proposals. But last year, the Local Government Association indicated that councils would resist a one-size-fits-all approach to waste collection.
DOGS + DOG DOINGS = PLASTIC POLLUTION?
St. Anne’s South county councillor Edward Nash was concerned that a pet-related cause of plastic pollution may have been overlooked.
Describing dog mess as “one of the most emotive subjects” in his division, County Cllr Nash told committee members that he had made a calculation.
“It’s reckoned in Lancashire that we’ve got half a million dogs who do two poos a day - that’s one million plastic bags [used to clean it up].
“The dog poo is degradable, but the bags aren’t,” he added.
Deputy council leader Albert Atkinson said biodegradable bags were the best solution, but that the issue served as another example of where “getting to the manufacturers” was key to reducing plastic waste.
400,000 tonnes - the volume of household waste generated in Lancashire (2018/19)
£26m - cost of sending county’s waste to landfill (2018/19)
£40m - estimated landfill costs to Lancashire County Council by 2025
*all figures exclude Blackpool and Blackburn-with-Darwen council areas.