Borders council chiefs defend their record on recycling

Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar at one of the region's recycling centres.
Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar at one of the region's recycling centres.

Council chiefs in the Borders have defended their recycling performance following concerns over contamination levels and failure to meet Scottish Government targets.

At last Thursday’s full meeting of Scottish Borders Council, the authority’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, fielded questions from concerned opposition councillors.

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson asked: “Is it true that more and more recycling waste is put into landfill by the company we use due to the amount of contamination in the recycling?

“I am informed that this has increased quite dramatically from previous years and would like to know how much extra this is costing Scottish Borders Council.

“Do you not think that this is a real let-down for the vast majority of people in the Borders who faithfully recycle?”

Mr Edgar pointed out that the local authority performs well against its contamination targets, saying: “The quantity of contaminated material collected, in terms of the council’s kerbside recycling service, has remained fairly static in recent years at around 12%.

“In the last 24 months, the council has only once exceeded the target contamination level outlined in its recycling contract.

“Contamination is an important factor, and officers are currently developing a communications campaign to increase awareness, reduce contamination and increase recycling rates.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the public for their continued support for the council’s waste and recycling service, and ask them to continue to play their part.”

A council spokesperson said afterwards: “In 2017, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency indicated that the average contamination of material accepted at material recover facilities is around 17% but, in some cases, is as high as 43%.

“Based on this, Scottish Borders Council continues to perform well but, as ever, there is room for improvement.”

The council’s failure to meet national recycling targets was also brought up by Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Kevin Drum.

He asked: “How does the council plan to ensure it meets the Scottish Government’s targets for recycling, which is 60% of household waste recycled or prepared for re-use by 2020?”

Mr Edgar admitted that the council has fallen well short of the government’s targets there but added that compared to regions such as Orkney and Dumfries and Galloway, it is performing well.

He told the chamber: “The Scottish Government’s recycling targets are aspirational and targeted as a whole, and therefore the council currently has no statutory obligation to meet these targets.

“Scottish Borders Council is achieving a recycling rate of 39.9% and performing extremely well when compared against its rural family group of Scottish authorities, which achieved a recycling rate of 30.5% over the same period.

“Over the last four years, the council has taken a number of steps towards improving its recycling performance.”

“That includes the introduction of a footways collection service, upgrades to community recycling centres, as well as introducing re-use schemes at a number of facilities, and working with local community groups and the third sector.

“Going forward, the council is in the process of developing a new waste transfer station, which will enable it to close its landfill site and divert waste for treatment, while also capturing potentially recyclable waste.

“In addition, the council is also looking at an education and awareness campaign.

“Achieving the Scottish Government’s aspirational target of 60% is likely to be extremely challenging, requiring significant change and investment nationally.”

The average rate of recycling household waste for Scottish authorities is 46%, but East Renfrewshire, West Lothian and Clackmannanshire have all hit the 60% mark.