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Controversial black bag check prevents 3,000 tonnes of landfill waste

A SCHEME to encourage more recycling in Swansea has saved taxpayers £300,000.

Trainee recycling officers began checking black bin bags at the kerbside in February to identify items that could be recycled rather than sent to landfill.

The council trainees also spoke to householders to explain what they needed to do recycling-wise, with the threat of fixed penalty notices or even prosecution for persistent non-compliance.

Councillor Mark Thomas, a cabinet member for environment and infrastructure management, told a council panel that 3,000 extra tonnes of material were subsequently being recycled.

This equates to a saving of £300,000 because it costs the authority £100 for each tonne of rubbish landfilled.

Cllr Thomas thanked the public for their efforts and said only two fixed penalty notices were in the process of being issued out of 90,000 households which had been checked.

He said the council was “well on target” to meet its 64% recycling target this year, and that the black bag checks had been the right thing to do.

“My only regret is that we should have done this years ago,” he said.

“It has done very much what it said on the tin.”

He added: “There has been a shift in the public’s reaction to waste, landfill and recycling.”

But he conceded that the black bag scheme had its critics at the outset, along with guidelines about what type of plastics people should recycle.

Previously, soft plastics were accepted for collection but this is not the case now.

Residents should only put plastic bottles, clean food trays, bottle tops and caps, yoghurt pots, and margarine and ice cream tubs into their pink sacks.

“I know this is a controversial subject,” said Cllr Thomas.

But when China stopped accepting UK plastic waste last year, he said, councils like Swansea had to find other takers.

Now, UK companies buy and reprocess Swansea’s plastic but they have no use for soft plastic waste like carrier bags and cling film.

Councillor Phil Downing said the plastic arrangements confused people and that, combined with Wales-wide changes in how waste wood was classified, he was worried future recycling targets could be missed.

“They keep changing the goalposts,” he said.

Cllr Thomas said schoolchildren had told him that other councils recycled soft plastic.

“They don’t,” he said. “All we are doing (in Swansea) is segregating it at the doorstep. It is a difficult message to get across.”

The council’s waste and recycling service costs £19m annually but generates a £6.7m income, £5.4m of which is from selling recyclable products like hard plastic waste, glass, and paper.

While councils have ever-increasing recycling targets, that is not the case for business waste.

The Welsh Government has, however, launched a consultation to force businesses, public sector bodies and charities to present specified recyclable materials for collection separately from residual waste.

The proposed legislation will come into force next October.

Swansea Council runs a commercial waste service, but private operators don’t have to be as rigorous with recycling arrangements as the authority.

Matthew Perkins, Swansea’s group leader for waste management, said of the proposed legislation: “I’m hoping the playing field can be leveled.”

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