‘Wrong kind of rubbish’ contract being discussed behind closed doors in Milton Keynes

Costly recycling blunders could blow a £3million hole in Milton Keynes Council’s budget, the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands

MK Council’s Scrutiny Management Committee yesterday (Wednesday) excluded the press and public to hold a secret meeting to grill a panel of witnesses over the future of troubled waste contracts that are due to end in 2023.

Milton Keynes Council

Milton Keynes Council

Tonight (Thursday), Cllr Rob Middleton, the council’s cabinet member for resources is due to make a delegated decision, which refers to waste contracts.

The discussions are understood to refer to a risk of around £3 million that was identified during the council’s budget-setting process and reported at the time.

In February, councillors were told residents are putting too much of the wrong kind of rubbish – including used nappies and packets of crisps, which cannot be recycled, in with their cardboard, newspapers, and cans.

The council’s contractors use a mixture of mechanical and human hand methods to sort out the different types of waste.

The council’s budget papers stated: “Contamination of waste at the Materials Recycling Factory (MRF) is higher than that agreed in the contract. This reduces the income the contractor receives for recylates and also increases the costs of managing the plant, resulting in claims to Milton Keynes Council for contamination costs.”

The 15-year contract to operate the MRF in Wolverton includes a 10 per cent threshold for contamination, above which the council has to pay charges. Contamination levels of double that rate have been reported, which hits the amount of money that Viridor can make from selling the bundled recycled materials.

The market for recyclable materials, including tin and aluminium cans, and newspapers, has crashed since 2009 as more and more materials come on to the market.

The budget papers confirmed that “Contamination levels in Milton Keynes are higher than the threshold, and negotiations are currently being undertaken with the contractor to agree the basis of future charges to compensate for resulting loss in recyclate value and higher operating costs.”

On February 20, the MK Citizen revealed that the charge was ‘thought to be upwards of £3m, from recycling contractor Viridor.”

At that time, the council’s leader, Cllr Pete Marland, said: “The claim by Viridor for high levels of contamination is not unexpected. We do not believe that the levels are as high as our contractor states, and we will look to negotiate robustly with them and require a high level of evidence before any possible settlement.”

Cllr Middleton was staying tight-lipped about his decision on Thursday. He said: “Once the formal deal is signed off, we hope to be able to release much more information. At the moment, we’re required to protect the contractor’s commercial interests.”