Millions "wasted" as huge quantities of waste sent to landfill

Vast amounts of recyclable material continue to be sent to landfill in Aberdeenshire, including thousands of tonnes of food never even removed from its packaging.

More than 20% of waste collected from households across the area is food which could go to alternative use, but instead is left to rot in a hole in the ground.

Every household in Aberdeenshire has access to a weekly food waste recycling service, which sees unwanted food turned into compost for farmers’ fields in the area.

In addition to all the nutrients which are lost, sending it to landfill is expensive and the material then generates gas which can be harmful to the environment.

An analysis of household waste across Aberdeenshire has also exposed some eye-opening figures relating to other recyclable materials from which further use or value could be extracted.

More than half of the 83,412 tonnes of waste sent to landfill last year at a cost of around £10 million could have been recycled, saving millions and benefitting our environment.

Recycling costs around half of landfill disposal, a practice which will be banned in Scotland from 2021, meaning other solutions have to be found, in addition to increased recycling and reuse.

62.6% of the waste collected from homes across the region could be recycled using services available to residents, but unfortunately still ends up in landfill.

Some common items can take hundreds, thousands or even millions of years to decompose, in the case of glass bottles.

Tin cans can last 50 years, plastic bottles 450 years, children’s nappies 800 years and carrier bags 1,000 years. Other common items take many lifetimes to deteriorate.

Aberdeenshire Council recently carried out a series of waste analyses following the introduction of new waste and recycling collection arrangements to 117,000 local households in the last few years.

The independent study sampled 1,200 homes, designed to be representative of Aberdeenshire as a whole. Waste was transported to a transfer station where it was sorted into categories for analysis.

This has provided the authority with information on the types of waste being generated and how residents are disposing of them, with the future aim of encouraging householders to reduce waste and improve recycling rates.

The area has a co-mingled kerbside recycling system which accepts a large number of materials, including food waste collections every week.

Residents can easily recycle a significant proportion of the material they generate using their blue-lidded kerbside bin, with anything else being accepted at Recycling Centres (HWRCs) or mini recycling points.

Chairman of the council’s Infrastructure Services Committee, Peter Argyle, said: “Food waste accounted for the largest proportion of the residual waste, a truly incredible amount, in terms of the cost to produce it, purchase it and the sheer volume of material.

“As a result of this analysis, one of the recommendations is that the council should continue to focus on food waste reduction and capture, because of the large quantities and significant environmental impact of this waste.

“This is not about snooping on what people are throwing away with a view to imposing penalties – it’s an information-gathering exercise to help us provide fit-for-purpose services which help us all achieve the required waste reduction.”

On average householders present just under 10kg of waste to be disposed of in landfill every week.

The main item still left in landfill bins is food waste at 21.8% - of that 9.1% could have been avoided by freezing it before it went out of date, or making something else out of it, while 9.5% was still packaged.

In addition, 4.4% was textiles and footwear, which could be re-used or recycled, while recyclable plastic bottles accounted for 1.2%. Paper and card, easily recycled, accounted for 5.1%.

33.9% of everything found in landfill bins could have been recycled at the kerbside, while a further 28.7% could be taken to any of the council’s HWRCs. This includes garden waste, which accounted for 17.8%.

Although not collected on the kerbside, glass is accepted at HWRCs and recycling points across the region and the council can supply smaller local facilities for public use where required. Glass accounted for 4.4% of the kerbside recyclables going into the ground.

“Clearly, there is work for us to do to reach the recycling target of 60% by 2020, and ideally we’d like to recycle more beyond that,” added Aberdeenshire Council’s Head of Roads, Landscape Services and Waste Management, Philip McKay.

“We will strive in the weeks, months and years ahead to help residents make the best use of our services, which can ultimately bring significant financial and environmental benefits for the area.”

For more information on waste and recycling in Aberdeenshire, including how you can do more, or to request a free recycling bin or food caddy, see: bit.ly/ShireRecycling  

To find the locations and opening times of Aberdeenshire’s HWRCs and mini recycling points, visit: bit.ly/AbshireHWRCs