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Recycling forces isles to import more waste

The waste to energy plant in Lerwick. Photo Shetland NewsThe waste to energy plant produces the hot water for the Lerwick district heating scheme. Photo Shetland News

SHETLAND is having to import more rubbish to power the Lerwick district heating scheme as the government raises its recycling targets.

For the past year and a half Shetland has been bringing in waste from mainland Scotland to make up for what is being taken out of the Shetland waste stream.

Within 12 years Holyrood wants all councils to recycle 70 per cent of their waste and send just five per cent to landfill, meaning even more will need to be imported for Lerwick’s central heating system.

The amount of household garbage collected in Shetland has decreased in volume since kerbside recycling was introduced in Lerwick and Scalloway two years ago, removing plastic, paper, metal and glass from people’s dustbins.

The loss of plastic and paper, which burns well, has also meant the Gremista waste to energy plant has needed a greater volume of fuel to heat the town’s hot water system.

Last year the plant burned 23,000 tonnes of rubbish compared to 22,000 tonnes in 2011 to power the district heating scheme.

To fill the gap, Shetland started importing waste from Highland Council over a year ago to add to what it already receives from local sources, Orkney and the offshore oil industry.

With tough new Scottish government recycling targets likely to reduce the waste stream even further, even more rubbish will have to be imported in the future.

Waste to energy plant manager Willum Spence sees this as a business opportunity because councils pay Shetland to take their waste.

Last month government auditors came up to inspect the contents of Shetland's household waste after concerns about levels of recycling in the isles. Photo: SIC

“I can see more waste coming in from the mainland. There is certainly a market out there in Scotland for us to take waste and Highland has plenty,” he said.

“With all this recycling there’s a need for all the other councils to have some way of getting rid of their residual waste and our power plant provides a facility to do that.”

Shetland Islands Council environmental health executive manager Maggie Sandison said recycling meant there was not only less to burn, but it did not burn as effectively.

“Recycling means less tonnage and we are also getting less calorific value because we are taking out plastic, which creates a lot of energy,” she said.

“Metal isn’t a problem, paper is a good source of fuel but plastic is a significant source of fuel.”

The council has now scrapped kerbside collection to save money, but hopes to increase recycling with new “bring banks” in Lerwick and Scalloway for plastic, paper, metal and glass.

Sandison said there was an “urban myth” that recycled materials went straight to the incinerator.

“If something is separated for recycling we’re not allowed to put it back into the general waste stream,” she said.

Plastic and metal is sent south for reprocessing into plastic bottles and metal cans, while paper is shredded locally for animal bedding and glass goes to Cunningsburgh to be processed by Enviroglass.

Shetland lies at the bottom of Scotland’s recycling league table, because burning rubbish to heat water or turning glass into aggregate is not counted by the government as recycling.

The government also does not take account of school pupils collecting aluminium cans which are stored by Shetland Amenity Trust and then sold when the price is at its highest to make money back for the schools.

“There is a lot happening in Shetland, but in terms of national targets we are at the bottom of the table because what we do doesn’t fit the government’s audit trails for recycling,” Sandison said.

New council glass and metal recycling bins at Hillswick, with an extra bin from NCDC for clothes. Plastic and paper are too bulky for rural recycling in rural Shetland. Photo Shetland News

The new recycling points will be set up on 1 May at popular places in Lerwick and Scalloway to make them easily accessible for townsfolk and people driving in from rural Shetland.

The bins will be at Tesco, the Co-op, Victoria Pier, Rudda Park car park, the new SIC HQ at North Ness, Staney Hill car park, Blydoit and Burns Beach car park.

Until then people will have to take their recyclable waste to the main recycling centre at Gremista.

Sandison urged people not to recycle low quality plastic like yoghurt pots because they lowered the value of the plastic sent south to be turned into plastic bottles.

She also said they could not to recycle wet paper as it could not be shredded for animal bedding.