Speech: Household Recycling Centres


HRC report coverAt Full Council in February 2015, Birmingham’s councillors debated a report on Household Recycling Centres (aka ‘the tip’). I sit on the Connectivity & Sustainability Overview & Scrutiny Committee that developed the report, and spoke to emphasise how these centres are key to Birmingham’s circular economy:


Thank you, Lord Mayor.


Today, I wanted to highlight the role of Household Recycling Centres in a green and smart society and economy, as explored in the report the Chair has presented today.


Household Recycling Centres are an important part of our waste infrastructure in Birmingham, and key to a functional circular economy. And during the course of this enquiry, members of the Committee were able to explore their potential in this regard. We met ‘The Re-Users’, based at the entrance to the Norris Way HRC in Sutton Coldfield. It is a social enterprise – run by Jericho – which encourages people who are bringing household items to the HRC to instead donate them for ‘upcycling’. Once repaired and refreshed, the finished items are then sold in the onsite shop, as well as at a separate location near to Jericho’s head office in Balsall Heath. People donate, people shop, and people get a really good deal. One person’s trash really is another’s treasure.


However, I think it also neatly demonstrates the potential for developing skills and creating work in a circular economy. Anyone who knows Jericho’s work already knows that this is key to their mission across the business – they also have a wood recycling project in Nechells that is also worth a visit. Both projects include working with people who experience significant personal or occupational barriers to employment, training or social inclusion and both help those people into work by building their skills and confidence in the workplace.


The co-location of The Re-Users with the HRC is key to ensuring that the donated items are dealt with higher up the waste hierarchy – it is convenient for citizens, so it works. They asserted in the evidence-gathering session that the enterprise would not have been as successful had it been located elsewhere, and we were inclined to agree. It is why Recommendation 5 is that their lease is extended so that they can invest into the building and continue their good work – and we are pleased to see that the Executive response references renewal of that lease, although we hope that a longer-term solution can be found.


To my mind, a co-located upcycling business is the very definition of green and smart. But I also wanted to draw attention to an element of the report that focuses on smart. In parts of Europe – where smaller communal refuse and recycling collection points are the norm – they have bins which can be accessed by passcode or smart card, enabling the municipality to restrict access to the residents. As a committee, we felt that it would be interesting to see whether this had an impact on the quality and quantity of the recyclate. Smart bins allow for incentivising recycling, as well as tackling poor use of the containers via targeted information and further action. So Recommendation 6 requests that we seriously consider the use of smart containers in any future waste contract.


This piece of work dovetails with ‘From Waste to Resource’, undertaken by the former TRACOS committee, as well as with the ongoing work around the city’s waste strategy. Post 2019, it is hoped that the city will have much more control over what happens to the items that are taken to the HRCs – and it is fundamentally important that these centres are convenient enough for citizens to rely on so that we can retain a steady stream of items to reuse and recycle that will feed our circular economy. I hope very much that this has been a useful piece of work for our city, and I hope that all of us present today will back this report and agree the recommendations.

You can also watch the speech here.

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