As recently highlighted, Wokingham Borough Council ( a local authority area in south east England, UK) is exploring replacing residents’ black kerbside recycling boxes with reusable hessian sacks.

A quick glimpse at comments on a Wokingham.Today article or a brief trawl of social media will tell you that many residents are confused by or unhappy with the proposals.

We spoke with Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for Climate Emergency, to find out more about why Wokingham Borough Council wants to give kerbside boxes the sack.

Essentially, RE3 (the waste management partnership between Bracknell Forest, Reading and Wokingham) sell our recycling and use this revenue to offset our collection cost,” he explained.

“They can’t recycle wet paper or card though, so when it rains a large proportion of our recycling becomes contaminated and has to be disposed of via other means, rather than sold at a profit.”

Elaborating on the pressing need to find a suitable solution, Cllr Murray continued: We need to find an answer to this problem because if we don’t, come October to March we are likely to face a bill of circa £600,000 due to rejected wet cardboard and paper. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and other financial pressures that is a cost we would likely need to pass on to residents and we do not want to do that.”

Some residents have argued in favour of lids being provided to cover existing recycling boxes or for wheelie bins, as used in Reading. But this isn’t the answer says Cllr Murray: “We cannot retro fit all of our current boxes with flip lids and even if we did the boxes are mostly overfilled anyway making a lid useless at keeping out rain. Non-secured lids may fly away in wind and could result in lids and boxes being blown into roads, causing a hazard. Lids would also slow down collections, which would mean a need for more vehicles, potentially costing more than the wet recycling does. None of these are considered attractive solutions.”

Explaining why the Council thinks that sacks are the answer, he said: “Similar sacks are already in use in Bristol, Bath, Stevenage and other areas and have proved highly effective in tackling the issue.

“The sacks are made of infused hessian and slightly weighted at the bottom to prevent them moving around when it is windy. They are waterproof and larger than the existing boxes, but will take up less space when empty.”

Another issue when it comes to recycling is residents’ confusion as to what can and can’t be placed in a kerbside recycling box. This important information can be clearly printed on the side of sacks according to Cllr Murray.

Households will likely receive two sacks, with the new scheme to be rolled out “before the winter” if given the green light.  The Council also plans to collect and recycle redundant recycling boxes Cllr Murray explained: “We are looking at solutions in terms of the black boxes. There are companies that will recycle them, and potentially turn them into things for use within our community (think park benches or the recycled plastic curb stones that we use). All options are being investigated right now and I hope to announce the solution long before the boxes start getting collected.”

He clarified that: “There is an upfront cost to doing this but it will be offset from not losing the recycling revenue each time it rains and our paper/cardboard gets wet.

And ended: “Making this change will not only help us to reduce our costs but, crucially, to keep our streets tidier, to increase our recycling rates and to get us closer to our Climate Emergency goals.”

In our humble opinion, Wokingham Borough Council has carefully con

At a meeting on 30 July, this item was discussed and many questions were raised. There appears to remain some confusion around the proposals, particularly in relation to what the sacks are made from, whether they are indeed fully waterproof and around the financial aspects of the scheme.

We have heard from residents in other areas of the UK, where similar sacks are being used, and their feedback has been very good. However, any potential positives are at the moment being outweighed by the ongoing uncertainty and confusion.We look forward to things hopefully becoming clearer soon and to matters progressing in a sensible direction.

What do you use in your area? Can you recycle all that you want to in kerbside collections or locally? Get in touch.

You can find us on Facebook by searching for Plastic Free Home or at http://www.facebook.com/plasticfreehomeuk.

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