Council urged to ‘come clean’ over plastic recycling deal

Cllr Phelim Mac Cafferty
Cllr Phelim Mac Cafferty

Green councillors are calling on Labour to ‘come clean’ as to why Brighton and Hove residents are unable to recycle certain types of plastic.

In Brighton and Hove only plastic bottles can be recycled, but pots, tubs and trays cannot. This is thought to be part of the reason why Brighton and Hove’s recycling rate stands at just 29 per cent.

In a letter between the council and the Government on the city’s poor recycling rates, the council said Veolia, the company which has a 30-year private finance initiative (PFI) waste disposal contract with the local authority, is ‘not willing’ to adapt its contract to recycle more plastics, and that it only takes products with an ‘end market’ for recycling.

The letter to Therese Coffey, an environment minister, was revealed in a Freedom of Information request by Materials Recycling World magazine.

Calling on the Labour council to renegotiate the contract with Veolia – which has another 17 years to run – convenor of the Greens Cllr Phelim Mac Cafferty said: “The letter suggests we are stuck with current recycling issues because Veolia won’t take products that lack an ‘end market’ for recycling. But other local recycling companies in the city, and indeed other councils, collect a greater range of materials than are covered through the Veolia contract.”

He urged Labour to renegotiate the contract.

Cllr Gill Mitchell, Labour’s lead member for environment, said the council is ‘already in discussion with Veolia in relation to the retrofitting of technology that could enable a greater range of plastics to be recycled’.

A Veolia spokesperson said: “The long-term PFI contract agreed with East Sussex County Council and Brighton & Hove City Council is specifically designed for waste treatment and disposal. The collection methodologies and which recyclates are collected from householders is determined by the Waste Collection Authority based on best available treatment technologies. We are always open to discussions that will increase recycling levels through the collection of high quality recyclates.”

Criticism over ‘toxic’ PFI deal

The Greens took aim at a ‘toxic’ waste deal by the city council and urged the Labour-run local authority to renegotiate the terms around plastic recycling.

This comes after a letter was revealed from a council employee to a Government minister which said: “Veolia will only take limited types of materials as they state they cannot find a guaranteed end market for products that can be recycled, such as certain types of plastics.

“Whilst other councils can and do recycle these kinds of materials, the B&HCC (Brighton and Hove City Council) is contractually obliged under the terms of the PFI agreement to provide all waste materials, whether residual or recyclable to Veolia. We have raised this anomaly with Veolia on a number of occasions, but they are not willing to change their position on this.”

Brighton and Hove City Council and East Sussex County Council agreed a joint £1 billion disposal deal with Veolia in 2003, running for 30 years. The deal was a private finance initiative (PFI), a controversial funding deal for major capital investments where private firms are contracted to complete and manage public schemes.

Cllr Mac Cafferty said: “I read with interest the letter from the Labour council to Government ministers stating that massive waste company Veolia, which holds the local contract for recycling, has rejected calls to renegotiate their waste service to take more plastics.

“Labour now needs to come clean about how toxic these PFI deals are, something they’ve been unwilling to tell the public. The reality is that through the complex arrangements of PFI, private companies have been able to hold councils to ransom.”

Veolia has been contacted for a comment.