A conversation with Paul Martin of Cornwall Council Environment Service
by Aimee Rigby/27th-September-2020
Welcome to Zero Waste Kode, would you like to introduce yourself?
Yeah sure. So, my name’s Paul Martin, I work for Cornwall Council in the environment service, more specifically on the waste and recycling service, and I’m their team leader for waste policy and projects.
So, what type of waste is Cornwall Council responsible for?
Well, there’s two levels really. In our own service, we are responsible for municipal waste, which is mostly household waste. But we also do collect a very small amount of commercial waste alongside household waste. But Cornwall Council also has planning responsibilities for other waste streams, such as commercial waste, industrial waste, and so on. So, it has to think about those other waste streams, but only from a planning perspective. It doesn’t actually have any responsibilities for collecting those waste streams.
So, in your experience, how big of an issue is food waste in Cornwall? Are there any particular areas that come to mind that are particularly bad for it or particularly good for it?
Yeah, food waste is definitely a considerable issue for Cornwall. It’s an issue across a whole range of streams and the council has recognised this and will be collecting food waste from households within a year or two, as part of the new waste collection service. So, the council recognised the issues relating to food waste in the municipal -so the municipal or household waste mostly- and will be doing something about that. They also, in fairness, over the past few years, the council have tried to subsidise food waste digesters so that householders could buy them at a vastly reduced cost. And also compost bins. They have also provided those at a reduced cost. So, it’s always been an acknowledgement, but it’s about affordability and balancing that with lots of other priorities that the council has.
Paul Martin, Cornwall Council Environment service, team leader for waste policy and projects.
Do you know what their food collection service that you say might come into effect in next 2 years might look like? Is it something that will go into a compost heap or what will be done with it?
Yeah, so again, by way of background, there’s approximately 40 to 50,000 tonnes of food waste that is generated by households in Cornwall on an annual basis. And we will be providing a weekly collection service of food waste. The service will gradually get rolled out across the County, it’s not going to be everybody has it on day one, it’ll gradually go kind of Depot by Depot. So, it’ll get rolled out across the County, and then that food waste will get collected. So, for householders they will be issued with a 7-litre food waste caddy, as well as a 23-litre food waste caddy, where if you the tip the smaller caddy that they keep in the kitchen, into the large ones that will stay outside.
And that will be collected on a weekly basis, and that product, or material, will then get transported from the collection service to an anaerobic digestion facility, the location of which is yet to be determined.
What is Cornwall Council doing to reduce the food waste in the community?
Well, just going back to really what I was just saying, is that we’ve been subsidising food waste digesters, and also subsidising composting as well. So, it is limited, in terms of what we can do at the moment, but when the food waste collection service starts that will be the major change, that’s sort of very much a ‘see’ change really from what we currently do to what we will be doing. And it will also, as an indirect result, probably encourage more recycling as well.
Have you seen a difference, or an increase, in food waste since the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme?
It is probably too early to tell on that. I mean, we keep a lot of data, as you would probably expect, and we, almost uniquely I think, we keep it at a very local level; so, we can actually see it in particular towns, villages, wards and parishes. So, we can actually see how much waste is being produced. But it’s still rather early to tell whether there’s been an impact in relationship to COVID. We have seen, what we can say, is we’ve seen an increase in the volumes of recycling and garden waste collected at the kerbside. As well as, there have been less large increase in residual waste collected. But we can’t identify the individual components of that, so we couldn’t tell you how much more of that is food waste, or how much more of it is plastic for instance.
Okay! So, are there any items in particular that cause a particular problem for waste disposal, for example plastic bags?
Not as such, because any residual waste gets taken to our Energy From Waste facility. It’s just outside of St Dennis, so mid Cornwall, where it is incinerated.
So, most materials get incinerated and then of course it gets turned into energy, so in forms of electricity, which does power- I think it’s believed about 22,000 properties.
So, the energy from that facility does power an awful lot of properties, so there is some good being done with the waste, as opposed to it going direct to landfill. So, in terms of materials, providing they can burn, that’s not a problem. So, I suppose it’s always about trying to remove the items before they get into the waste stream, or trying to reuse them, is far further up the waste hierarchy. So, we would prefer less items to pick up, no matter what they are. But obviously anything that’s of hazardous nature, we would prefer not to be having those, of course, at all, in the waste streams. But plastic bags, I mean plastic in general, plastic has gone up considerably.
The volume of plastic that we are now dealing with, as opposed to even ten years ago, is dramatically different. But we’re seeing reductions in other waste streams.
Again, this wouldn’t be particularly surprising, but paper has dropped considerably over the last 10 years and card is probably staying at a similar or even perhaps a little bit higher level. So again, if you think about how the use of the Internet, and all of these things, people buying less newspapers, they’re all kind of logical. But also, plastics as a total waste stream, has gone up considerably over that time.
What is Cornwall Council doing to respond to the climate emergency declaration?
Well, Cornwall Council declared an emergency for climate over 18 months ago now, I think it was January 2019, and there’s been a considerable amount of work and effort and it is one of the key priorities for the council going forward, is to try and achieve carbon neutrality. And there is a whole number of strands that they’ve been working on, one of those is looking at planning documents for climate change, what we call a development plan document, so DPD for short. They are also looking at the Forest of Cornwall, which is about creating larger tree canopies across Cornwall, and they have also developed a climate… well it was originally a climate decision wheel, but now it’s just more of a decision wheel, which is taken into account for all council decisions. It takes into account a whole range of topics including, obviously the environment. And on a more, personal to waste, elements- and something I’m involved in myself, is the development of a circular economy. So, we’re trying to undertake that, and that is not without its large challenges, but we have also started work on that. So, there’s a whole range of projects and strands that the council have been involved in. Obviously, some of those, especially the things like the circular economy, has been a lot more difficult and challenging as a result of COVID 19
Above images; The Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre near St Dennis uses waste that is left after recycling as fuel to generate sustainable energy in the form of electricity. This means Cornwall Council avoids high landfill charges, and helps reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. A Cornish Materials recovery centre. Plastic recycling road map. Area recycling table.
Would you be able to tell me a little bit more about the circular economy model?
Yeah, so one of the things we’re trying to do is establish the volume of material and things like power use, water use, and so on, in Cornwall. And there has been an overall inventory for Cornwall, but we’re trying to break that down into a more localised level. So, we’re trying to establish what materials are actually required, and what power use is required, and then trying to model that to understand what that’s going to look like in a few years. But also, then in terms of materials, if for instance we had one particular business that required wood for their business, and another firm, not that far away, were throwing away or recycling wooden pallets- and we can join those two up. And then one gets rid of their wooden pallets for free, and the other gets their wood for free, that they are requiring. So, it’s that type of, that’s just an example of, one example, of how the circular economy can work. But therefore, you know, in that way we don’t have to pick up any waste, commercial companies don’t have to pick up any waste, and therefore they all make savings, they make an economic saving, and as an environmental saving as well.
Great! So finally, do you have any advice for households to deal with, or reduce, their waste?
Meal planning is always probably, because food waste is the largest, in Cornwall, is the largest part of the waste stream, we would probably concentrate on food waste. So, planning meals is, you know, it’s very simple stuff and very if you like, old fashioned stuff. But if you plan your meals, understand, get portion control correct, all of those things that restaurants are getting very very good at. But the more of that occurs, the less food waste will be thrown away, and the less that it costs for the council to pick it all up.
Wonderful, so thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
No problem, Aimee.
Paul Martin, Cornwall Council https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/environment-and-planning/recycling-rubbish-and-waste/