MEMBERS of the SIC’s environment and transport committee have unanimously backed a plan to introduce fortnightly kerbside recycling collections throughout the islands from next summer.
A report from the council’s waste management team leader Colin Bragg outlined a scheme, developed in conjunction with Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS), which will see paper, card, plastic, cans and cartons collected from householders.
ZWS funding will enable the local authority to issue two wheelie bins to all households, and non-recyclable rubbish will move to being collected fortnightly. Bags will also be issued to encourage householders to take glass to collection points for recycling.
The SIC previously abandoned a more limited form of recycling collection four years ago. Since then, the proportion of waste that is recycled from isles households has slumped to less than a tenth - with most rubbish being burned at the Energy Recovery Plant at Gremista to fuel the district heating scheme.
Bragg told councillors that a derogation allowing the SIC, which signed the Scottish Government's household recycling charter in 2016, to fall short of national recycling levels was unlikely to be renewed in future.
Alternative fuel sources - principally the import of non-recycable refuse from the mainland - could be used to avoid the waste-to-heat plant having to rely on diesel-generated power. In light of that, the SIC and ZWS have concluded that recycling material and shipping it south is the best option both financially and environmentally for Shetland's household waste.
Although no members formally objected to the scheme, responses from some councillors at Monday’s meeting of the environment and transport committee at Lerwick Town Hall were rather lukewarm.
North Mainland councillor and business owner Andrea Manson was the most sceptical, speaking about the difficulties she already encounters trying to tie wheelie bins down in strong gales: “I think it’s going to be a nightmare, but we shall wait and see – be warned.”
Moving the report’s recommendations in a somewhat perfunctory manner, council leader Cecil Smith grumbled that he feared strong winds would blow his wheelie bins “over the banks”.
There was rather more enthusiasm from deputy leader Steven Coutts, who seconded the motion, and committee chairman Ryan Thomson.
Both felt it was the right thing to do to address the SIC’s nationwide low recycling rate and meet its legal obligations, all of which tie in with the Scottish Government’s drive to tackle climate change.
“It’s something we should be doing,” Coutts said. “There’s plenty questions and there’ll be plenty more questions, but Colin did an excellent job in answering our questions, and I think that puts us in good stead.”
He added it was important to bear in mind vulnerable, hard-to-reach householders who might find it difficult to transport their wheelie bins to where bin lorries collect them, a point also raised by West Side councillor Theo Smith.
“We need to be conscious of them, and think of a communication strategy to get to those individuals to make sure that the rollout goes as smoothly, dare I say, as possible,” Coutts said.
Thomson said that, as well as possessing a nine per cent recycling rate that “puts us bottom in the whole of Scotland in terms of recycling”, it was “also something we legally need to be doing as a council”.
The national average is currently 44 per cent and the Scottish Government is targeting a recycling rate of 70 per cent by 2025 – starkly highlighting the distance the SIC must travel between now and then.
“If this goes through today, it should be the start of it,” Thomson said. “There’s bound to be teething issues. We need to work with communications and make sure problems are ironed out, particularly for those who are going to struggle with this.”
ZWS has offered funding of £579,000 to the council, covering the cost of new wheelie bins as well as £63,500 for a contractor to help get the message out about the new service.
In addition, a case is being put together for capital funding of around £750,000 for a new shed and sorting equipment to deal with the various materials.
The cost of weekly collection of waste from over 11,000 households would not change. Based on a cautious hypothetical recycling rate of 20 per cent, the money made from selling materials on for reuse would save the council £25,000 a year – or more if the rate exceeds that.
A four-week cycle would see non-recyclable waste collected one week, paper and card in the second week, non-recyclable waste in the third and then plastic, cans and cartons in the fourth week.
There are also plans to speak to businesses about ways of changing how commercial waste is collected.
In response to questioning from councillors on the back of comments on social media in recent days, Bragg confirmed that any material that was collected for recycling “must be recycled” and not incinerated.
Regarding the issue of how wheelie bins might fare in strong North Sea gales, Bragg said the council had looked at how recycling collections were done in areas such as the Western Isles and Argyll & Bute, which experience “similar average wind speeds and peak gusts”.
Lerwick North member Stephen Leask said there were “a lot of negatives here”, but officials had “obviously looked at other areas… and seen the dynamics they’re following in relation to this”. He added: “We really have to get with the programme on this.”