notes from JK

Thoughts on incineration after visiting Rabbit Skips

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the facilities of Rabbit Skips in Lancing.

They are an independent local company who service many businesses, particularly construction and events, in the Brighton & Hove area.

I was very interested to know about how they are reducing their environmental impact. I was impressed with the clear passion with which staff did their work and pride in what they had achieved.

Rabbit’s process is a microcosm of what the city council, to an extent, do with residents’ waste.

Waste comes into the site and is sorted. Most of the sorting is done using a variety of electro-mechanical systems and magnets very similar to the Hollingdean Materials Recovery Facility used by the council. The difference being that while the council only put recycling through their system, Rabbit put everything through theirs (other than obviously re-usable large items like doors and girders!)

The sorting is impressive for what it can retrieve from the waste: Soil, wood, metal (even the tiniest screws, springs and nails), plastics, aggregrate and so on. Many of these materials, such as metals, plastics, are sold onto the market for recycling or re-use.

The remaining ‘residue waste’ is broken down into small pieces for use in an incinerator. I’m told it was the UK’s first incinerator using waste to be classified as using biofuel due to the amount of wood-chip and other organic materials that goes in there.

That a relatively small, independent local company managed to get through all the legislative hoops and pull together the financing to build these facilities – which are highly automated – is in itself impressive.

It seemed to my untrained eye that the incinerator has more machinery to clean the exhaust than anything else. Currently, when running both lines, they can generate up to 2MW which is sold as green energy onto the national grid. They would like to sell their heat too, but so far have not found any buyers.

While the majority of waste, when the mix is right, is burnt, they are still left with several tons a day of residue which has to be handled as hazardous waste. They also have a quantity of ash collected by filters which goes into road building – so it’s not a totally zero waste affair.

Let’s be clear, in my view incineration is very much second best to some other waste systems such as digestion technologies and pyrolosis. No process is perfect but in terms of efficiency and emissions they are clearly preferable to incineration. In my view incineration is not much different from landfill, you stick it in the air rather than in the ground, but at least you recover some energy in the process.

It is my goal to see Brighton & Hove using the most efficient, environmentally friendly waste processes possible. Nevertheless firms like Rabbit have a role to play because councils do not handle or process commercial waste. If incineration is to be pursued (and I hope not) it’s certainly better to have smaller, local installations than large mega-sites as for Veolia’s in Newhaven where emissions will be heavily concentrated in one area.

What I can support wholeheartedly is the waste sorting Rabbit are using. We could be using it on the bulk of our waste to push far more of it into the recycling market. The technology is there… but is there the will from the the Tories locally or nationally?

current affairs

A new, rather tame, waste strategy is approved

Waste management is rather magical for most people. No matter what they throw out, as long as it fits in the bins, disappears each week. But of course it doesn’t disappear, it just becomes someone else’s problem. We shift the waste into our countryside or we truck it to incinerators or ship it overseas.

This gives residents a false impression that the problem is dealt with, but of course it isn’t. It’s in someone else’s back yard or in the air they breathe. As a developed, modern society there is no need for us to be doing this – we have the skills and technology to make better use of nearly all our ‘waste’ and to do so locally.

Brighton & Hove’s municipal waste strategy is one part of how we can achieve such a vision. Well it could have been if the Conservatives weren’t in control. What we had was a worthy but overall weak and unambitious strategy. I accept that commercial waste is beyond the council’s legal responsibility, and this makes up a huge amount of the total waste mountain. However as the political leadership for the city, as the largest employer and as the municipal waste authority we have a huge opportunity to show leadership on waste issues, locally and nationally. We’re a forward looking city, I know residents would support such an approach.

I’ve covered this ground many times before but it really is disappointing that not even a food waste collection pilot is on the immediate cards. Below are my comments on the final draft of the strategy. There’s lots of hard work in there, and plenty of worthy ideas, just no big picture ambitious vision.


This important strategy is very welcome, a strategic take on our waste challenges is vital. I suppose we must say better late than never given how long we’ve been waiting for this.

As I’ve said previously, the targets continue to lack ambition, they not only come in below national targets, but they also defer large increases in recycling rates until the more distant future: A 2.8 % point increase in the current period then an 8 % point increase targeted for the following 2 years. National targets look for more steady progress rather than spurts of improvement. The Sustainability Appraisal echoes these concerns and refers to a review of targets in 2011, when will we learn more of this review?

I must note that Greens remain opposed to the notion of incineration of waste at Newhaven and we are disappointed that this strategy schedules so much waste to go there.

There are lots of good ideas in this report, like the food waste reduction campaign with the Food Partnership; promoting online re-use schemes; a very important trade waste analysis and toy recycling. I warmly welcome the proposed trial of communal recycling and a study to better understand the challenges faced by city centre residents. The report notes that where waste is contained, recycling improves. Communal bins are totally uncontained and are a serious problem for addressing waste reduction.

I’m delighted the garden waste collection scheme may yet come forward as many including the Older Peoples’ Council and Greens have long been calling for such a scheme. I look forward to a positive outcome.

Food waste is a key issue, given that it makes up 35% of our municipal waste. The strategy’s arguments on this issue are somewhat circular. Page 21 says a reason for not pursuing food waste collections is that refuse collections are weekly. Page 25 then says that weekly collections will be maintained because food waste collections are not being planned. Which is it? What’s the problem? Food waste collection or weekly collections?

Many other authorities have solved these problems. Ultimately section 8 on residual waste seems to dodge around the critical issues a waste strategy needs to tackle. We should be leading on these matters, not waiting to follow others. Fortnightly collections are immaterial in the city centre where communal bins are emptied almost daily. We need to be piloting a full range of approaches to understand what works. Communications and enforcement campaigns have had limited success thus far and I’m sorry to say will not alone get our waste levels to where they need to be.

So, in closing, I welcome the ideas, studies and pilots proposed in this strategy. But overall it is a missed opportunity which I fear won’t make the progress on waste reduction we need to. I congratulate the Environment Directorate officers who have obviously worked very hard on this, the background documents are impressive pieces of work. Sadly the political leadership to tackle waste in this city doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from this administration. Perhaps next year’s review of targets will provide an opportunity for this council to up its game?

notes from JK

Green response to Waste & Minerals Core Strategy

Today I submitted the Green Group of Councillor’s response to East Sussex and Brighton & Hove’s Waste & Minerals Core Strategy – Preferred Options consultation. In essence this consultation is a request for input on what the officers’ preferred strategies for handling waste and minerals in the area should be.

This strategy is highly dependent on Brighton & Hove’s own Municipal Waste Strategy which was also recently consulted on. It’s still in draft form, we don’t know what the City’s final strategy will look like. This summer we submitted our views on that strategy too.

In my view both of the drafts are deeply lacking in ambition. We could be making serious financial savings as well as reaping major environmental benefits, by a far more aggressive approach to waste. Simple things like garden green waste collections would shift up to 10% of municipal waste into the recycling column.

The Government are slowly beginning to get tougher on waste too… better late than never. They will be offering funds for ‘Zero Waste Areas’ as well as planning to ban certain materials from landfill altogether. We should be jumping onto that – we should have done years ago – again, better late than never!

The Green Group Waste & Minerals response [PDF]

Aiming for Zero Waste: Green Group response to the Municipal Waste Strategy [PDF]

You can view the Waste & Minerals Core Strategy either on the East Sussex Consultation Portal or in there Brighton & Hove Cabinet meeting papers [PDF]. The City’s draft Municipal Waste Strategy can be viewed here.

UPDATE: We didn’t address the issue of land raise specifically in the response, but I want to make clear that we do oppose the proposed introduction of land raise sites for waste disposal — especially in sensitive parts of our countryside as implied by the report.

notes from JK

Dealing with green waste: Brighton & Hove vs the world

bulldozer_in_landfillI’m asking you to support a council-run green waste collection in Brighton & Hove with a pledge.

As some have noticed from my blogs and press work, I’m passionate about waste and recycling. I want to see Brighton & Hove at the forefront of best practice, aiming for zero waste. Unfortunately at the moment this is not the case, the city’s draft waste strategy has us planning to come in under the national targets for recycling and composting.

The first small step in trying to turn that around is arguing for a green waste collection in our city. This is something many people have called for, including the Older People’s Council, who rightly argue that many don’t have space to home compost, don’t have a car to drive waste to a collection point and can’t afford private pick-ups on a regular basis.

Based on what other councils provide, I expect we can provide a collection for a fee of around £50 a year. This would mean only those needing the service pay, it wouldn’t be supported by council tax, thus ensuring those without gardens aren’t paying for a service they can’t use.

To help convince the powers that be that this can be done I’m calling on everyone who’d like to use this service to pledge that they will sign up if we get the collections launched. Please signup at and spread the word. Pledgebank wouldn’t let me specify the full area covered by the city, but if you live in Portslade, Hove, Brighton, Kemptown or Rottingdean then you can sign up.

To provide some context on what’s happening elsewhere and add to the pressure on the Council administration, here are some links:

notes from JK

“Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal” by Tristram Stuart: A review

It was through waste and recycling that I first became a ‘green’. At my junior school I remember putting posters up encouraging my fellow pupils to recycle more cans, paper and cardboard.

What we consider ‘waste’ is deeply telling on our attitudes to food, the environment and consumption. As any archeologist can attest, waste reveals huge amounts about a society.

That ‘western’ lifestyles are wasteful probably will come as no surprise to most of Tristram Stuart’s readers. But the scale of the problem and its full ramifications are not quite so easy to grasp. Through a considerable amount of travel, some serious number crunching and lots of dumpster diving Stuart paints the full, shameful picture of our food waste problem.

Reading Stuart’s book is deeply exasperating in many places, through no fault of the author. It’s just frustrating to see so many obvious solutions to many of the problems Stuart examines. That companies allow themselves to waste huge amounts of valuable resources is not only unethical but bad business. That so many governments have failed to adequately tackle waste is plain irresponsible. Food waste means less food for the hungry and an environmental cost paid to grow/raise food which is never consumed.

Rather than rehearse the whole book, which is excellent, I urge you to read it. The calculations on the true costs of food waste are eye-popping as are the estimates that roughly half of all food produced is wasted between plough and plate. It’s an engaging and deeply worthwhile book. Thank you Tristram.

Buy from Amazon: Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal
(I get a small referral if you use this link)

notes from JK

Bin there: More questions on bins at a Cabinet meeting

Resident concern over how communal bins have been implemented in our city continues. And so I continue to try to hold the Conservative administration to account on this issue.

I recently attended a Cabinet meeting to ask Cllr Geoffrey Theobald what he was going to do to stop the new model bins (without the foot pedals) making so much noise when being shut. I also wanted to find out if the council is using more or less fuel to collect waste since the changes were introduced. I submitted my questions in writing a full 15 days before the meeting. Nevertheless I still haven’t got an answer to the question on fuel use, nearly a month since I first asked it. In the clip you’ll see Cllr Theobald claim this is a very difficult bit of information to establish – which I find rather worrying, surely this kind of information should be easily on hand to manage CityClean’s budget.

It turns out that the ‘stopper’ being promised by CityClean to deal with the problems will have no effect on the noise of it slamming shut. The proposed alterations will just prevent the flap from hanging open by welding a bit of metal to the flap to restrict the width to which it can be opened. Cllr Theobald didn’t respond to my query as to the additional cost of this alteration.

Cllr Theobald claims to have apologised at previous council meetings but as you can see in my previous blog post I asked him to apologise but no apology was forthcoming.

Two other things to note in the video clip which the microphones don’t pick up well. One is that several Cabinet members were trying to say I couldn’t ask my supplementary question about whether there were plans to roll out more communal bins as they felt it wasn’t on the same subject as my original questions — which is just bizarre as my questions were all obviously about the bins.

Secondly I made a point of order at the end because at the January council meeting, Cllr Theobald claimed the waste strategy (a key document for the city promised since 2007) would be presented to that very Cabinet meeting, but it wasn’t there!

It has emerged that the strategy will come to Cllr Theobald’s cabinet member meeting this coming week, I’ve looked at the document and my first impression is that it’s very weak indeed. But regardless, if a Councillor tells the whole council that he will present a document to a specific Cabinet meeting and then doesn’t, isn’t that a cause for concern? I think so.

You can read my original written questions and the answers (or non-answers more like!) here. The minutes don’t yet reflect what, as you can see on the video, actually happened; I’m working on having that changed.

It was recently reported in The Argus (sadly not on their website it seems), and I have confirmed with council officers, that Hastings will be introducing communal bins but with communal recycling also. They have been looking at Brighton & Hove’s experiences and it’s interesting that they are doing exactly what I have suggested. If there must be communal bins at least put recycling on a level footing with waste disposal, otherwise recyclables will get just chucked away in the big bins.

Problems with the bins continue to make the news including a video on The Argus website and front page of the Brighton & Hove Leader (with a picture of yours truly) which was an unexpected shock when picking up the morning post!

My previous posts on communal bins, in chronological order:

notes from JK

More questions on waste and bins

Does our system of local democracy work? Are we able to get the best out of our local government with the current arrangements? I'm not sure.

A curent case study is the new communal bin system introduce here in Brighton & Hove. Views on these bins vary widely but from residents meetings I've attended I would say about a third are fundamentally opposed to the bins, another third might be open to the bins but not as they have been implemented with the remaining third either positively welcoming or unfussed by them.

There have been lots of bumps on the path of the Conservative's attempts to introduce the bins. First they tried to impose them without consultation but opposition parties forced them to consult. The siting of the bins was fraught and there's been no clear process for adjudication differences over bin locations (I did ask for one but the administration refused). The bins introduced have also been different to the ones trialled and shown in publicity – the new ones do not have foot pedals which made the trial ones fairly easy to use for people with a wide range of mobility levels.

I've been pursuing this matter for a while now… You can review the questions and answers from the January 2009 council meeting. Below are the video clips from my latest questions to the Conservative Cabinet member responsible, Cllr Geoffrey Theobald (split into two parts due to YouTube's 10 minute per clip limit). The required context is provided by the written questions and answers from page 7 of the meeting addendum

I think the answers (or more precisely the lack of them) speak for themself. It's telling how much time Cllr Theobald and his colleague Cllr Brian Oxley trying to persuade me that a Council meeting isn't the right place to challenge these kinds of issues. I absolutely disagree. The council chamber with all the councillors present is exactly where we should hold Cabinet members to account.

That said despite asking the questions in the council chamber I don't believe I got the answers residents deserved. But by having the debate in public forum they will be able to draw their own conclusions from what they see.

notes from JK

Question Time at Council: Cllr Theobald says no, he’s been very busy!

Having had concerns over the Conservative’s communal bin scheme from when it was on the drawing board, I haven’t been surprised to receive a flood of emails and phone calls once the bins were installed in Regency ward this month.

I’m welcoming photos of problems on the Bin Files Flickr group and took the opportunity of this week’s council meeting to question Cllr Theobald, the cabinet member responsible, on who he’d consulted on this scheme (like the last minute removal of the foot-pedals), whether money had been effectively spent and what future plans there were.

The webcasting pilot lets me provide for you clips which I think are more telling than a transcript would be. The webcasting system won’t let me link directly to certain points in the meeting so I’ve extracted the clips onto YouTube. I reproduce my initial written questions below along with Cllr Theobald’s written responses.

As you’ll see the whole process was quite unsatisfactory as, intentionally or not, Cllr Theobald rarely answered by questions or misconstrued them. There’s a bonus clip at the bottom of this post which may answer why. Perhaps my favourite response is Cllr Theobald explaining that the city’s waste strategy is two years late because he’s been “very, very busy“!

The question and answers:

Bonus clip which might explain things:

(e) Councillor Kitcat

“Could Cllr Theobald provide details on any consultation held with emergency services over the type and location of communal bins being introduced to Regency Ward? In particular were individual bin locations discussed, particularly with regard to ensuring safe access and preventing fire hazards?”

Reply from Councillor Theobald, Cabinet Member for Environment.

The City Council would not usually consult the emergency services for placing objects, or indeed determining the locations for cars to park, on the public highway, unless they form part of a safety scheme or traffic calming proposal.

The specific locations of the communal bins to which you refer have been determined with Highways and Traffic engineers who fully consider road safety issues as well as access for emergency services and delivery vehicles, on this basis we have not asked the ambulance service, the fire or police authorities also to view the location of each bin.

I am pleased to mention our strong and positive links with the East Sussex Fire Authority. Cllr Ted Kemble as the Vice Chairman of the Authority discussed the communal bin scheme with the Chief Fire Officer sometime ago and they are satisfied that they do not pose an additional fire risk.

(k) Councillor Kitcat

“Can Cllr Theobald provide any details on any plans for communal collection of recycling in the city centre? If so when does he expect these plans to be implemented?”

Reply from Councillor Theobald, Cabinet Member for Environment.

There are no plans to implement communal recycling in the city centre. We are looking at a range of options to improve recycling rates and these will be set out in the waste strategy. The first draft of this will be brought to Cabinet in April this year with the intention that residents are consulted on its proposals.

(p) Councillor Kitcat

“Can Cllr Theobald provide the costs incurred by the council in printing and sending notifications to residents for:

  • The changes in bin collection schedules,
  • The introduction of communal bins in some wards and discontinuation of bag collections,
  • And the changes in recycling collection schedules?”

Reply from Councillor Theobald, Cabinet Member for Environment.

The cost for the communication including designing, printing and posting the materials is budgeted at £98,000. This works out at approximately £0.47 per communication. Given that all the changes result in annual savings just short of £1m I think this is money well spent.

(q) Councillor Kitcat

“Can Cllr Theobald provide an estimate on the number of people who have taken up the assisted waste collection service since the introduction of communal bins and what number of users has been budgeted for at what cost?”

Reply from Cllr Theobald, Cabinet Member for Environment.

Communal bins are generally easy to use as they avoid the need to carry a weekly supply of refuse in big black bags, and in many cases taking these down 22 into basement bin stores. Instead small bags of rubbish can be deposited in the bins on a daily basis if need be. However some people are unable to use communal bins and Cityclean will provide assisted collections for these residents. 17 people currently have an assisted collection for the existing communal bin collections that cover 6,600 households. To date we have received 35 requests for the new communal bin roll out covering 24,000 households, which are currently being considered against criteria set with the FDA (Federation of Disabled People) to ensure a fair and consistent approach to agreeing assisted collections.

Given our past experience it is highly likely that these numbers will reduce as residents understand the system and those who have negative views of the bins get use to and accept the scheme. Assisted collections are picked up by the driver of the communal bin truck and thus are provided within the budget for the communal bin service.

You can view the full list of written questions and answers submitted online here [PDF]

e-democ / e-gov

Share your bin problems

I've set up a Flickr pool to let you submit pictures of your local experiences with bins, especially communal bins. Submit your photos and I'll present them to the cabinet for their consideration.

notes from JK

Wrong bins in the wrong way

Jason by an overflowing communal bin

I believe the proposal for communal bins that Brighton & Hove’s Tory Administration waved through at their Cabinet Meeting last night is the wrong proposal being put forward in the wrong way. I’m not against communal bins on principle – but these ones in this way are not what our city needs.

Their introduction follows a flawed consultation process which did not meet the Cabinet Office’s code of practice for consultations — which applies to local authorities as much as it does to ministers. The consultation was run for barely a month when the minimum time set down by the code is 12 weeks. The code requires consultations to be provided online but this one wasn’t. A number of my constituents never received the consultation or saw only one for a building with multiple households. Allowing online responses could have helped remedy this.

More fundamentally however the Conservative communal bins do not deal with the key challenges waste and street tidyness pose for our city. Of course I want to see cleaner streets – who doesn’t? But I keep seeing and keep receiving photos of existing communal bins attracting mess, fly tipping, dumping and graffiti.

Binvelopes (the foldable containers to protect bin bags from attack by foxes and seagulls) were ruled out as being only a short term measure yet just a few weeks ago the use of binvelopes was expanded in the Hanover part of our city. How can they make sense there but not in Regency ward?

The nub of the matter lies with recycling however. There is already a problem with the existing communal bins — whenever I pass and look in I see lots of recyclables amidst the bin bags: cardboard, paper, glass, plastics. Surely it’s human nature to go for the path of least resistance. If people don’t have space to store rubbish in their flats then the same applies for recyclables. Yet the council expects residents to sit on recyclables for a week but chuck rubbish whenever they like into the big communal bins which are emptied six days a week.

A 2004 University of Brighton study commissioned by the council examined the waste in the communal bins trial. The study found that 42% of the waste in the bins was recyclable (under the current, quite limited recycling scheme available) and a further 21% was food based waste. This was in an areas where weekly kerbside recycling was already in operation.

So we know that 63% of the waste in the bins could be dealt with in alternative ways. We are told a new waste strategy is being developed to bolster our weak recycling levels. We have expanded recycling facilities coming online shortly that will be able to process a wider range of materials than ever before. So why rush the bins in before all this and risk taxpayer money on increasing landfill charges as recyclables are chucked out?

I also feel that the administration have not been sensitive in locating these bins. I have had correspondence from some residents extremely distressed by the thought of having smelly, noisy bins outside their homes possibly blocking their natural light. We have many streets in beautiful conservation areas that house a low density population which are clearly opposed to having these bins. The council’s conservation policy and local plan both clearly put a duty on the council to ‘preserve or enhance the character or appearance’ of our conservation areas and so we should allow opt-outs for the sake of our most beautiful streets and when residents clearly won’t support the scheme.

In summary, we have a proposal that is based on:

  • A flawed consultation,
  • doesn’t deal with mess but attracts it,
  • isn’t sensitive to conservation areas and won’t allow opt-outs,
  • and rips the heart out of our recycling programme — 63% of the waste in the communal bins could have been dealt with by recycling and composting.

I would like to see a new plan which isn’t rushed ahead of the waste strategy — who heard of implementation before the strategy is written? Show me a plan which properly considers the human, conservation and environmental impacts of its proposals and I’ll happily support it.

Cllr Theobald claimed that his plans would have ‘No negative impact on recycling’ and so there would be no additional landfill tax liability. This flies in the face of the council’s own studies.

Yes, we need cleaner streets. But we urgently need to recycle far more than we do today – this was the wrong proposal in the wrong way.