Concern over consequences of plan to scrap free food waste bags
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
Council chiefs are “very nervous” that a plan to save £50,000 by axing free food waste bags could backfire and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Monmouthshire County Council currently has one of the best recycling rates in Wales but it is feared a plan to make a small saving by no longer providing plastic food waste bags to households for free could go wrong if more food ends up in black bags which are only meant for rubbish that cannot be recycled or composted.
Instead it will sell the bags “at cost” to residents – but is also encouraging people to re-use other plastic bags.
An increase in food in general waste could result in the council having to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds – or more – in fines if recycling targets are missed.
Councils that fail to achieve the Welsh Government’s recycling targets can be fined up to £100,000 for every percentage point they are short of the figure.
Carl Touhig, head of the council’s neighbourhood services, told members of the place scrutiny committee, who were examining the budget for the upcoming financial year, there is a risk the proposed saving could end up costing the council.
“We are very nervous not providing food waste bags could see a reduction in the amount of (food) waste put out for collection,” said Mr Touhig, who added the council also wants to encourage households to use other plastic bags for their food waste.
“Across the board we see on average every household uses four of our bags per week. We are not sure of the impact but we will definitely be reviewing it throughout the year.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot of food waste going into black bags for this to be a negative turnaround on a budget saving but we shouldn’t be encouraging use of single plastic bags. We are quite nervous and will certainly be reviewing it in the next three months.”
Committee chair, Conservative councillor for Portskewett, Lisa Dymock asked if any other councils had withdrawn free bags and Mr Touhig said some in England had and a council in Northern Ireland had tried introducing charges.
“That did not go particularly well but I’ve not got all the details but we will be keeping an eye on it,” said Mr Touhig, who added one Gwent council is actually introducing free bags.
“Caerphilly have just done the opposite to us as they are so far behind on their recycling figures.”
Shirenewton Conservative Louise Brown said more information should be provided on alternatives to the council provided bags.
“I know we can use plastic bags, for loaves of bread, or pea bags, but I’m not sure the general public know that. I don’t know whether you can use plastic bags you would use for shopping? It would be helpful if a lot of the public know there is an alternative to help with food waste recycling.”
Compostable bin liners
Some councils, including Cardiff, provide compostable bin liners for food waste recycling.
Monmouthshire was one of just five Welsh councils to recycle 70 per cent of waste, including food waste for composting, in 2022/23 which was above the 64 per cent target.
The recycling target will rise to 70 per cent in 2024/25 meaning any increase in general waste could see it fall short.
A Monmouthshire council spokesman said: “Residents can use any plastic bags – but ideally they will be a similar size to existing provision, bread bags, vegetable/fruit bags, freezer food bags are all very good substitutes and provide another use for these bags that would normally end up in the non-recyclable waste.”
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