'Bin police' in Milton Keynes paid almost £100,000 to sift through recycling bags on doorsteps and issue warning letters
MK Council is paying a charity to examine recycling bags put out by households all over the borough.
If any 'contaminated' or wrong items are found in sacks on more than one occasion, the resident is issued with a warning letter - sometimes with a mention of possible "enforcement" action.
This has led to fears that people will be fined and has sparked widespread protest on social media.
"Two men are going round checking he recycling sacks, placing blue dots on them to say they won't collect it as there are items in it that are not recyclable. They're posting cards through doors saying you will have to dispose of it yourself," said one indignant householder.
"The dustmen told me last week they are going to start handing out fines if sacks are contaminated," said another resident.
"Who are these people and why are they sifting through my recycling bags? I don't like the idea of it at all," said a third.
Meanwhile local Tory councillors have described the scheme as "t‘s an extremely heavy handed and expensive way of dealing with contamination."
The Citizen carried out an investigation and can reveal the 'bin police' are actually specialists from the Keep Britain Tidy charity.
MK Council has taken out a £97.500 contract with the charity to provide "specialist communication support for recycling contamination". The contract was due to be launched last December but, due to the Covid crisis, was delayed until February.
The Keep Britain Tidy officials are paid to check recycling sacks for offending items such as nappies, greasy pizza boxes, unwashed plastic containers and crisp packets.
But they are NOT enforcement officers and no fines will ever be issued, said the Cabinet member in charge of recycling, Cllr Emily Darlington, today.
She has, however, agreed that the tone of the letters being put through the doors of recycling offenders is "a little too strong" and may be giving people the wrong idea.
"I will ask for the letters to be toned down a little. The scheme is meant to support people to recycle correctly, not punish them. There will certainly be no fines issued," she told the Citizen.
Recycling blunders, officially known as contamination, costs MK Council a whopping £1m a year. One wrong item means the entire sack has to be taken to a different depot and picked through by hand.
"People really want to recycle. They are keen to do it properly, but there is confusion around what can and can't be recycled. The intention of this scheme is to clear up that confusion.
"We know that more and more people in Milton Keynes are committed to recycling and are trying to get it right, but every week we see a lot of things in the clear recycling sacks that shouldn’t be there, like dirty nappies, glass bottles, food waste, and old clothes.
"Dealing with things that cannot be recycled costs Milton Keynes Council hundreds of thousands pounds per year. That’s money that could be better spent to help local people. We are very pleased to be working with Keep Britain Tidy to help residents recycle correctly.”
Cllr Darlington said it was also incorrect that contaminated sacks would be left for the resident to dispose of themselves.
"They will be collected. The blue sticker is on their simply to alert the refuse collectors to take them to a different depot because there's a contaminated item.
"The first time this happens, a postcard is put through the resident's door to remind them of what they can and can't recycle. If the mistakes continue, then a letter is put through the door to explain in more details. There are four different stages."
"Apparently one of the letters mentions enforcement. That will be removed," she said.
As soon as it is deemed Covid safe, the recycling checkers will be knocking on doors and having face to face chats with residents.
The scheme follows Milton Keynes Council’s participation in research, which lifted the lid on recycling and looked ‘inside the head of the contaminator’ .
"Using insights from the research, we developed an innovative programme of behavioural interventions and support to tackle contamination in Milton Keynes, which will be fully evaluated to give the Council robust evidence about what works," said a Keep Britain Tidy spokesman,
They say their programme of work in MK will include "various nudges", direct feedback to households who are contaminating their recycling in pilot areas and new communications aiming to "disrupt current contamination behaviours" - particularly in groups who already think they are recycling correctly
There will also be a campaign to tackle nappy contamination across Milton Keynes.
Here is a comprehensive list of what CAN be put in a clear recycling sack in MK:
Paper envelopes, including window Envelopes
Cardboard (Broken down so it fits in the bag. Must be dry)
Clean pizza boxes
Drinks and milk bottles (Wash, squash and put lid back on)
Plastic bottles with pumps and triggers
Cleaning product bottles
Loose plastic lids from bottles and jars
Plastic pots, tubs and trays, including black plastic
Ready meal containers
Disposable plastic cutlery
Food and drink cans
Pet food tins
Sweet and biscuit tins
Loose metal lids from bottles and jars
Empty aerosol sprays cans
Clean tin foil or foil food trays
And here's a list of what CANNOT be recycled here:
Tissues, kitchen roll or cotton wool
Wet wipes or cleaning wipes
Nappies (disposable or biodegradable)
Disposable or compostable coffee cups
Items with food or drink still inside
Plastic bags or cling film
Crisp, biscuit or sweet packets or wrappers
Thick, hard plastics like toys or Tupperware
Pet food pouches
Metal pans or tools
Clothes, fabric or rags
Broken glass or china
If in doubt, check MK Council's recycling guide here