Waste Strategy Manager
Paul Willis is the councils' waste strategy manager. He has been in this role for the last 13 years.
Paul is passionate about keeping our local environment clean and making sure that waste is used as a resource rather than just being thrown away. His role includes waste education and environmental enforcement to help achieve these aims.
You can read Paul's current 2018 blog posts on this page below - or click here to read his archive of 2017 blog posts ...
I've just returned from a weekend in Plymouth, where I was a student many moons ago. I return every once in a while and it is always interesting to see the changes that have taken place there since I lived in the city.
This weekend my eyes were drawn to a number of metal signs that have been installed to deal with the anti-littering message. The slogans were certainly thought provoking and clearly had target audiences in mind. One of them was “Children - teach adults not to litter” - This is opposite to the perceived wisdom that adults have to teach children not to litter.
With all the signs being semi-permanently placed adjacent to major road junctions clearly some significant investment had been made and although I was only in one part of the city all weekend there was no reason to think that they were confined to this area.
It set me thinking about whether a sign on its own actually does change behaviour?
I can see that signage as part of a package of other communication messages might do the trick. For example over the years we have put together communication packages of materials that have similar designs so that they look like they all belong to the same campaign.
A good case in point is our recycling materials. We have used the nationally recognised iconography developed by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and bound that into fun designs for our leaflets, lorry banners, bin stickers and other promotional materials.
Keeping the same style of designs helps to achieve recognition and drive the messaging through a number of different channels. Does it work? We do know that residents have got used to the calendars that come through the door periodically and know what to look for when they come. Bin stickers with the iconography also seem to do the trick as we see less contamination in the bins where we have affixed them.
When it comes to other signage though can we be sure of their impact? I am sure we all seen innumerable anti-littering and anti dog fouling signs wherever you go in this country but do they work? Considering the amount of litter that blights some areas it is difficult to argue even when the threat of being monitored by CCTV or being hit with a heavy fine is included in the signage.
One thing I can say about the roads around Plymouth is that they didn't seem as littered as I remember on previous visits. Is that the effect of the signage or that I just got lucky and visited just after those sections of road had been cleaned?
Photo: Banner on one of our trucks
It might be because I am older but Valentine's Day definitely holds less importance to me these days. Nevertheless the shops are full of items that are 'must haves' in order to declare undying love to your special person. As someone who avoids buying 'tat' wherever possible I am amused by some of the merchandise on offer but I also cannot help but see the recycling potential too.
As a bare minimum token of your affection the card is probably the first thing you might think of buying. These are easy to recycle - card and envelope are generally accepted but watch out for the odd one not made of card as sometimes they are made of plastic and sadly not recyclable.
How about the red roses? These are often highly packaged in plastic wrap which sadly cannot be recycled. Choose carefully to reduce the packaging and when the flowers finally expire (hopefully long before your love) they can happily be put in your home compost bin or your garden waste bin. Please do not put in general waste unless you have no other choice as they then create an unnecessary environmental burden.
You might want to push the boat out and treat your beloved to a posh meal and even some champagne. The good news is that champagne bottles are fully recyclable although we don't want the cork thanks - that ideally can go in your home composting bin. As far as a posh meal is concerned steak, salmon and caviar produce very little waste and as for strawberries, the punnet they come in is recyclable and the green stalks can be home composted. We can also recycle the containers that posh ready meals come in if a quiet night in without cooking is on the cards.
At your special meal you might want to decorate the table with a mylar balloon (the foil type). These are made from plastic and not recyclable so probably not a good choice. Chocolates usually come in recyclable packaging as we can collect cardboard boxes, plastic tubs, the paper inserts, black trays and even the foil (make a ball out of it so it is big enough to be sorted effectively).
Finally the seductive clothing. I won't go into too much detail here except to say that if this replaces old tatty stuff don't throw that away - please take it to a clothing bank as it can be recycled or reused. The added benefit to taking your old stuff to a textile bank is that local charities get to benefit from your donation.
Hopefully I haven't destroyed the mood with all these hints and tips! I hope you all enjoy your special day!
Now that the days are getting noticeably longer and the light is stronger my thoughts are once again turning to gardening. I wouldn't class myself as a particularly keen gardener but we do like to grow a few vegetables in our back garden. In the next week or so I shall probably be preparing ground for whatever crops we decide to have a go at this year. One of the things I do during this process is empty our compost bin of all that wonderfully rich material that we get from our fruit and vegetable waste.
Home composting is a bit like baking a cake. The secret is all in the mix and while I don't profess to be an expert (ask more proficient gardeners than me their secrets!) what I do know is that my mixture of fruit and vegetable peelings, grass cuttings, toilet roll tubes and shredded paper make for excellent compost.
I was told many years ago that it is all about the ratio of 'greens' and 'browns'. Too many 'greens' and you end up with a smelly sludge as the mixture is too wet to compost effectively and your material putrefies. Too many 'browns' and your compost doesn't break down quickly enough as there is insufficient moisture to drive the process. In chemistry terms the 'greens' represent nitrogen and the 'browns' represent carbon. The ratio between carbon and nitrogen is crucial to the effective breakdown of material within your compost bin.
So what are 'greens' in composting terms?
The material doesn't have to be green; in fact most of my feed-stock isn't green at all. It is generally the wetter fraction of organic waste and could include potato peelings, cabbage stalks, onion skins, grass cuttings and cut flowers. Because of the wet nature of this material if this is put in a compost bin on its own the moisture content will prevent free drainage and anaerobic conditions (ie without oxygen) will develop. The material will still break down but methane is generally produced under these conditions and the material will smell pretty bad quite quickly.
'Browns' are generally woodier items such as hedge cuttings, shrub prunings and dead leaves. You can also substitute paper based items in the absence of natural materials and this is where shredded paper and toilet roll tubes come in. The browns help provide structure, creating the permeability for the moisture from the greens to drain away or be absorbed. The browns will also break down much more quickly if there is a healthy balance of greens. The resulting heat generated by the chemical breakdown of this material helps drive the process as well as kill any pathogens.
What you end up with after a few months is a wonderfully rich soil that will help your garden no end. Essentially it is free material and will help reduce the amount that goes in your waste bin by at least 20%. On that basis everyone is a winner! If you would like to get yourself started subsidised compost bins are available from the Get Composting website with prices starting at £15.
See also: Home composting
Photo: Fresh compost
I have spoken before in this blog about the Attenborough Effect, a phenomenon that we have all noticed since the transmission of the Blue Planet II programme just before Christmas. The effect it has had on people is fantastic, in particular those who are eager to do something to help reduce ocean litter. In order to harness this enthusiasm and ensure that it works effectively it is really important that the event organisers talk to the Council first. This is not about us being overly bureaucratic or getting in the way of community effort for we very much welcome it. Rather it is to make sure that some basic preparations are done before people gather in large groups to carry out litter picking.
We have had a couple of recent examples where people have just shown up without contacting us first.
In the first case the group discovered there was almost no litter to pick up. If they had checked with us they would have been told that the stretch of beach they chose was recently litter picked by another group and didn't warrant any further attention for a while.
The second group gathered far more interest than anyone could have dreamed and ended up doing the work without any form of insurance in place, a risk assessment carried out, how to deal with any hazardous material or even any proper plan what to do with the waste afterwards. Luckily we got wind of the plans at the 11th hour and were able to put some contingency in place but the event could have been so much better if only the organiser had been in touch first.
For any would-be beach cleaners please make sure to contact the Beach Office first at firstname.lastname@example.org and also the cleansing team at email@example.com. The beach office will then make sure their patrolling officers know that you are there on the day and can deal with any emergency that arises. The cleansing team can put arrangements in place for the disposal of any rubbish cleaned up and provide advice for what to do in case of finding anything hazardous. Needles, tar, dog faeces and broken glass are all examples of items that can be found on the beach that could cause injury or harm.
We can also provide support in terms of advice on public liability insurance so that you are covered in case of accident while out on your litter pick, advertising your event to gather support, communication of your efforts and crucially where would be the best place to go. We are used to co-ordinating groups as we have been doing so for many years. If we know where they are all going we can make sure that they don't duplicate their efforts. Nothing will sap the enthusiasm quicker than turning up to find the litter problem you were hoping to tackle no longer existing because another group got their first!
We have a number of groups litter picking in the next few weeks so if you were thinking of joining in I am sure you would be welcomed with open arms. We certainly welcome the efforts of all the volunteers who help us out and hopefully with more people getting involved it will put peer pressure on those individuals that are the source of the problem.
See also: Beaches
Photo: Litter picking party on the beach
Last week we had a scary moment when one of our recycling lorries delivered its load to the waste transfer station at Lancing. As the vehicle tipped a small fire was discovered, which luckily was found at the right time before it caused damage to the vehicle or any injury to the crew and transfer station staff. The material immediately by the fire was removed and the flames were quickly extinguished.
It is thought that the fire was started by a discarded battery that overheated.
With a lot of paper and card to act as a fuel to this ignition source it doesn't bear thinking about what a lucky escape we had.
This incident serves to remind us all why we are diligent in dealing with contamination in our recycling. It isn't just batteries that cause problems - other electrical items can do the same and we have even had incidents of lit cigarettes being thrown into the back of a recycling truck. Recycling in particular carries a greater risk of catching fire than refuse as the latter tends to be wetter and in that respect is naturally more fire retardant.
As far as batteries are concerned they are perfectly recyclable; we just don't want them in your blue-topped bin.
A number of large stores including supermarkets, DIY shops and ironmongers have collection points for recycling batteries and can therefore be dropped off while you do your shopping. Alternatively you could take them to the household waste and recycling sites in Worthing or Shoreham as each of them have a collection point as well.
The same goes for your toasters, kettles irons and other electrical items; we want them to be recycled but please don't put them in your blue topped bin.
They present a risk to the remaining recycling and the sorting plant isn't really geared up to take them. Sorting at this point is a much more expensive proposition as well as the risk they pose. Instead they should go to the household waste recycling site where there is a separate container for their collection.
Many thanks for your co-operation; ultimately we want our crews to stay safe as well as make sure that we can recycle as much of your material as possible.
The timing of the Government's 25 Year Plan for a Greener Future could not have been better, hot on the heels of Blue Planet II and at a time when media interest is already sparked by the 'latte levy', banning of microbeads and the amount of plastic in our environment. The new strategy is the first we have had from national Government for many years and is a welcome development. As you might expect from such a wide ranging document it is quite a meaty volume but I have taken a look at what it has to say about waste management as this will no doubt inform our work for many years to come.
The most noticeable thing about the section that deals with waste is that it highlights resource efficiency and waste reduction. This very much ties in with the notion of a circular economy, an idea that has slowly gained traction over the past few years. In a nutshell the circular economy deals with the issues of using resources better, manufacturing in a way that allows for easier recycling and uses any waste as a resource first before any disposal is allowed. In this way materials can be used time and again without dropping out of the system.
One of the materials that has attracted a lot of focus is plastic. Plastic has supplanted a lot of other packaging materials over the past few years, principally because it is lighter to transport (therefore reducing fuel bills), durable, hygienic and cheap to produce. Unfortunately its durability means that it is very persistent in the environment if it escapes from our control as illustrated to good effect on David Attenborough's programme. We have to acknowledge also that plastics are largely made from fossil fuels and are therefore a finite resource that we will have to find alternatives for over the next few decades. The Government have given a commitment to do just that within this document. There are some interesting ideas such as rolling out the 5p bag levy to cover small retailers, providing more water refill points to reduce demand for bottled water, the development of an app so you can easily find such facilities and plastic free aisles in supermarkets.
While Government have signalled their intentions to do their part we can all do our part to help too. The easiest plastics to avoid are water bottles (get a refillable one and/ or use a water filter), disposable plastic cutlery, polystyrene containers, plastic straws and single use shopping bags. Most of these cannot currently be recycled by the Council (except the water bottles). You can also help by ensuring that all your plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays are put in your kerbside bin so that we can send them for reprocessing. In that way we can ensure these resources have a new life and reduce the demand for more virgin materials.
Photo: Plastic bottles ready for shipping to the reprocessing plant
Welcome back to my first blog of 2018!
It's amazing the power of the media and I have come back to a bulging inbox of emails from people all wanting to do their bit for the environment as their New Year's resolution.
Most of the people that have contacted me were inspired by the Blue Planet II programme that aired just before Christmas. They want to know how to get involved in beach litter picks, what types of recycling we will collect and wanting me to sign petitions to ban straws, add taxes to coffee cups and swap out some of those disposable nasties such as plastic forks.
Suddenly the waste minimisation agenda has become trendy again and I hope it stays that way.
Christmas tends to be the time of year that people think about waste as a matter of course. Whether it is because of the large amounts of packaging that accompanies their shopping, the extra food that we all consume or the bulging bins that we cannot wait to get emptied I don't know but I sense something more this year and I reckon it's the Attenborough factor.
The debate that I have followed with particular interest is the one surrounding disposable coffee cups. These have become part of everyday life over the last 15 years or so and it is almost as common to see people walking down the road clutching a hot beverage as it is to see someone with a mobile phone. It isn't just in urban environments either - yesterday I visited a National Trust beauty spot with a refreshment kiosk and saw dozens of people walk out into the countryside with cups of coffee. Hopefully they all made it back to the bin!
One of the reasons that there has been so much focus on disposable coffee cups is that they aren't very recyclable. They are made from a special grade of paper that is designed to keep the drink in its best possible quality until it is consumed. Unfortunately these properties also mean that they need to be reprocessed differently from other grades of paper and card and therein lies the problem. Additionally many end up littering our verges and gutters as drinkers discard them as soon as they are finished and they end up blighting our neighbourhoods and main roads. The good news for Adur and Worthing residents is that we do collect the cups for recycling locally despite the media messages of doom and gloom.
In order to tackle the problem nationally a 25p 'Latte Levy' has been proposed to encourage people to switch to reusable cups. This might seem like a notional figure but interestingly this is often all it takes.
Some of the supermarkets have stopped selling the 5p plastic carrier bags after a decrease in use so dramatic that it was no longer viable to produce them. Could the same happen with disposable coffee cups? I'm probably not the best person to ask as I rarely use them. But if I were faced with a 25p additional charge I would probably have a reusable alternative.
Photo: Coffee cup being dropped out of a car window
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