Having achieved the highest recycling rate among Northern Ireland’s councils, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council’s Waste Team were crowned Best Local Authority Service Team at the Local Government Awards Northern Ireland 2018. APSE Direct spoke to Elaine Smith, Waste Manager, about the communication campaign that made this accolade possible
Mid and East Antrim Borough covers an area of about 400 sq miles extending from the River Bann in the west right across to the Antrim Coastline. It has a population of 138,000 and approximately 56,000 households. There are three main towns, Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus and a lot of villages and rural areas, so a good urban/rural mix.
The Council’s recycling rate had been sitting at 45% for a few years. There was a strong desire in Council not only to increase this rate significantly, but to play a leading role in the community on sustainable development in all its aspects, including waste resource management.
Following a workshop with Council Officers and Elected Members, there was recognition of an urgent need for a strategic approach to move away from “Waste Disposal Services” towards “Waste Resource Management Services”- with the associated positive environmental, social and financial benefits.
Aims and objectives
Our first stage involved making the most of the recycling services we already had in place.
With kerbside recycling - specifically food waste - the aim was provide simple to understand messages to change public behaviour and measure the impact on the recycling rate.
With Household Recycling Centres (HRCs), the aim was to change public perception of these centres as dumps and treat them as recycling centres and assess the impact on the recycling rate.
The overall objective was to increase the recycling rate over 50% within 1 year and measure the impact this had on the performance of the two services.
Initial challenges - Kerbside Collections
Making any change to bin collections can risk a negative response from the public. To reduce this risk we worked in partnership with DAERA and WRAP - The Department wanted a regional campaign across all Council areas to capitalise on changes in food waste regulations at that time and were willing to fund it.
We had also been careful to align our communication plan with WRAP’s National Communication Plan. This ensured value for money as we gained the benefit from a regional campaign, whilst being able to tailor communications to our own needs.
Our waste education officer worked closely with the communication team. This was the first time we had gone with one communication across the whole Council area.
We told the comms team the facts and what we wanted – people to do the right thing’ and then allowed them to come up with the design. The design took the form of 4 phases:
Phase 1 – Feed Me
This involved soft messaging telling people why they should put food waste in the brown bin.
Phase 2 - Brown is the new Black.
This was the action phase, in which eye catching and clear messaging told people their black bin would not be emptied if it contained food waste. During this phase, householders received information packs containing a letter from the CE explaining rational (economic, legislative and environmental reasons), a leaflet about how to use the service, a sticker to remind you what can go in the brown bin and a roll of 50 caddy liners (delivered free of charge 3 times a year).
This got a significant and positive reaction from householders, during the 3 month period after phase 2 the waste helpdesk received over 6,000 calls and 2,000 e-mails, requesting brown bins and food caddies and operations delivered over 5000 brown bins and 7500 food caddies.
Phase 3 – Enforcement.
‘Strictly no food waste’ stickers were used to influence the people who still weren’t recycling food. This created a second wave of brown bin and caddy requests.
Phase 4 – Encouragement stage.
This was about ensuring that the food waste collected is processed locally into compost, re-used in our parks and also given out free to the public during compost week. It is a good circular story for the waste. It was another reason to encourage people to keep up food recycling and to keep the momentum going.
Initial Challenges – HRCs
Due to the recent amalgamation of three legacy Councils, there were broad differences in the opening hours, operation, performance and customer service within the Council’s five HRC sites. Performance ranged from 90% recycling on one site to 59% on another. We addressed three main areas:
First we consolidated opening hours then standardised operational procedures to ensure sites were run and maintained to a consistently high level. Guidance and training was also put in place to manage commercial waste
Educating staff and householders
We implemented an education and support programme for staff and householders. We re-trained staff with a focus on delivering an excellent customer service. The team also hosted educational visits by schools and community groups to the site. Information leaflets were produced to ensure householders had full knowledge of what and how to recycle materials on site
Improved recycling and re-use services
Investment was secured for redevelopment of the Council’s second largest site. We also Introduced new material recycling streams such as mattresses and promoted re-use at all sites for paint, bicycles white goods, furniture and DIY.
Achievements – Kerbside Recycling
Black bin tonnage landfilled was reduced by 18% and the brown bin organic tonnage recycled increased by 27% in 2017/18.
The Council also recorded the highest recycling rate among NI Councils during Jul-Sep 2017 at 57.5%, an improvement of 8.4% on the same quarter the previous year. The Council also increased its recycling rate by 7.5% in 2017, the highest increase across NI Councils.
An additional 160 tonnes of dry recyclables was collected in 2017 compared to the previous year due to change in behaviour. These improvements led to the Council making an annual saving of £250,000 in disposal costs.
Achievements – HRCs
By implementing controls, we improved traffic flow and access to containers for householders. The campaign resulted in a reduction in landfill of 19% across all sites, saving rate payers over £100,000.
Educating staff and householders improved their interaction, site performance, staff motivation and customer service. Of particular note was Sullatober HRC, which increased its recycling rate by 8.3% in 2017.
In terms of accolades, the team was crowned Best Local Authority Service Team at the Northern Ireland Local Government Awards 2018. We also picked up two awards at the Sustainable NI Awards 2018: in the “Safety in Waste” category and the Household Waste Recycling Centre of the Year.
The Council plans to start harmonising the kerbside dry recycling scheme in 2019/20 which will require a new communications campaign with clear messaging. The aim is to make recycling as easy as possible for our householders, improve customer service and support our local economy.
In March this year we launched a new communications campaign to encourage customers to sort their waste before visiting their recycling centre to make their trip as quick and easy as possible. This was a regional campaign, funded by DAERA and designed by WRAP.
With our recycling rate on all sites reaching over 70% or more, the Council plans to redevelop a household recycling centre over the next two years and are aiming for 75% recycling across all sites during 2019.
• Submissions for the Northern Ireland Local Government Awards 2019 are now being taken. To download the submission pack and guidance brochure, please click here. All completed application forms must be returned by email to Caitlyn King at firstname.lastname@example.org by 4.00pm on Monday 16 September 2019.