On Thursday night Barnet agreed to 'suspend' food waste collections for an indefinite period while they look at how they can meet the 2020 recycling targets. Of course this was just a wheeze so that they can say they haven't scrapped the food waste collection service, but it fools no one.
I have blogged about this back in June and last week when I submitted questions to the committee. In the supporting papers they said that stopping the food waste collection would save £543,448. This was then revised down in the summary because I have consistently challenged the assumptions they used in calculating the cost of disposing via anaerobic digestion versus incineration. So they are now saying it will save £300,000 a year. Quite a lot, but I looked at the costs and found that £130,000 is spent on collecting food waste from properties with restricted access. If they have to make a saving then focus on the exceptional costs rather than removing the service from everyone. I also had discussions with the anaerobic digestion company. Together we identified a further £68,000 of costs that could be stripped out almost immediately. So that brings the cost down from £300,000 a year to £102,000. If Barnet could boost food recycling rates there would be a very real chance of the service breaking even. I put forward all these arguments but a political decision has been made and logic and common sense is ignored.
Cllr Zinkn got quite angry with me at one stage and suggested that I hadn't read the papers when I suggested their supporting evidence for the environmental benefits of incinerating food waste was poor. One of the reports was a metadata study or one that collates the evidence from a number of research studies. To me, saying I don't read the papers is the worse insult of all because the one thing I always do is read the evidence. In my questions I had drawn attention to the fact that, yes, it was a metadata study but it was carried out in 2004 and published in 2005. As a result all of the evidence would have come from studies carried out before 2005 and possibly some from the last millennium. As I pointed out in one of my questions, in 2005 the anaerobic digestion industry in the UK was almost entire dominated by digestion of sewage sludge. There were just 2 digesters operating that were for non sewage sludge. In 2018 there are 449 non sewage sludge Anaerobic Digesters in the UK and 106 commercial/ municipal ADs. It is a completely different industry today with technology that has moved on dramatically since 2005. Sewage sludge also has very different properties to household food waste.
It is a bit like using a metadata study on the smartphone industry in 2005, before the iphone was invented, on which to base decisions on smartphone usage in 2018. (The Motorola Razr V3 was apparently the bee's knees in 2005).
There are a number of studies which show the environmental benefit of AD and it is generally recognised as being preferential to incineration. I have set out just one below but it is also important to understand that DEFRA (page 10) also ranks AD above composting and incineration.
To cap everything Barnet have refused to participate in a review fully funded by the GLA to look at ways that Barnet could retain this service. It suggests to me, and I suspect many others, that Barnet do not want to expose their figures to scrutiny because it will become apparent that they are not robust.
Barnet have also conflated the withdrawal of the food waste collection with the reorganisation of the refuse collection rounds. Based on the methodology for making the savings, which is to remove the dedicated food waste collector on each vehicle, the food waste decision would make no difference at this time. Cllr Dean Cohen said that the waste collection routes weren't just inefficient because of the move from one depot in Mill Hill to two depots one on Harrow and one at Oakleigh Road but that the routes had been inefficient for years. My question would be if that is true why on earth hasn't this inefficiency been addressed sooner. I am not an expert so I also sought out advice from an expert who understand the rounds in detail and who concurred that the waste round reorganisation could go ahead irrespective of the food waste collection decision.
And then we come to my final point which is why the council ignored a potential £900,000 saving which could be delivered by moving to fortnightly waste collections. 76% of councils in England who have responsibility for waste collection have moved to fortnightly general waste collections. This helps to encourage higher levels of recycling especially when tied in with weekly food and recycling collections and cuts costs. Environmentally and financially it makes most sense. I asked Barnet why they had rejected this option and their response was "The retention of a weekly residual waste collection service was a Conservative manifesto pledge as voted on by the residents of Barnet". So residents voted not to save £900,000 even though we are facing a massive financial crisis where Barnet has to make £67 million of cuts in the next three years and this year alone the forecast is for a £9.5 million overspend.
When decisions like this are made it makes me despair of where Barnet is going.