24th July 2014 Anthony Rae writes for FOE  The news that, in a bizarre incident, a man running amok with a JCB has trashed one of the Council’s five recycling sites at Eastwood, should not allow us to forget the huge progress that Calderdale has made in little more than a decade, from a recycling rate below 10% to one now over 60% and at the top of the Yorkshire region league table. But is the JCB man also a metaphor for a wider threat to recycling progress?

ADDITION Sept 2014: Calderdale comes 6th in national recyclers league table.

Fortunately the household recycling centre, only newly refurbished just 6 months ago, is apparently fully insured by its operator SITA so after a 4 month reconstruction should be back open in November. Read the story here, including for the alternative arrangements whilst Eastwood is closed.

In November 2013 the Council were able to announce: ‘Recently released figures show that Calderdale is leading the way in recycling, with a household waste recycling rate of 60.61%. We are the only authority in the Yorkshire and Humber region that is recycling over 60% of waste, and one of only 9 authorities in England to achieve this feat.’ Read that story here.

The credit for the district’s hugely improved recycling rate must be shared between: Michael Meacher, who when Minister of State for the Environment in the Blair Government imposed targets on local authorities backed by the powerful fiscal incentive of Landfill Tax; the Council’s officers (and supportive councillors, of all three main parties) who devised a waste strategy based on removing organic waste (food) from the then weekly collection of ordinary waste, replacing this instead with weekly food waste and fortnightly residual waste collections; their contractor SITA who have then implemented that strategy well; and, yes, the likes of Friends of the Earth and CSF who throughout this period have been urging more and better recycling, and advising how that could be done. Let’s not forget the people of Calderdale too, with whom the scheme has proved so popular; all they say they want now is … more recycling streams collected such as different types of plastic, and cardboard.

It’s a great example of a national to local partnership, crossing sectors, to secure necessary and popular environmental improvements; and contrasts regretably with the ignominiously failed attempts of the current Secretary of State Eric Pickles to play politics with waste, by threatening to impose the return of weekly residual waste collections. No matter that this would reduce recycling, cripple its finances, and also contradicts his own, and the prevailing philosophy of ‘localism’, where councils would be left to pick and choose whatever environmental standards or performance they choose. Without Michael Meacher’s imposition from on high, and an equally powerful directive from the EU, we’d still be in the dustbin.

Essentially what Pickles has been trying to do is the same as the man on that JCB at Eastwood: running amok through recycling policy in an attempt to wreck it. And is still trying to do … because on 28th June 2014 a newspaper trumpeted this headline: ‘Councils to be forced by law to bring back weekly black bin collections’ – read the article here. Pickles is quoted thus: “One option being considered by the Conservatives is the introduction of a minimum service standard, which would reinstate the previous legal requirement for councils to collect rubbish weekly.”

Calderdale’s recycling rate may suffer a momentary dip before Eastwood reopens but for the longer term Friends of the Earth will continue to urge the Council to up the recycling target in its forthcoming new waste strategy to 70%. And we won’t accept political attempts to undermine our current recycling success story.

Footnote: I’m pleased to see that the Yorkshire Post agrees with my opinion of Eric Pickles: “…local authorities simply do not have the resources to provide a recycling service commensurate with the expectations. It is epitomised by the dogmatic desire of Keighley-born Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, for councils to retain weekly collections of general waste when many town halls have concluded that a fortnightly service is the more prudent from a financial – and recycling – perspective. Greater clarity of thought, and purpose, from Ministers is needed if more householders are to become aware of their wider obligations to society and the environment.”

Comprehensive information of what you can recycle and where is here together with a postcode look-up for the date of your weekly collections