I would like to take this opportunity to advise on the correct background to the introduction of recycling collections in rural areas of the county.

Mr Booth (Courier, November 4) suggests wheelie bins for recycling were introduced to rural areas as the most suitable means of collecting recyclable materials at these locations. This was not the case.

In 2009, East Lothian still had around 3,500 properties in rural parts of the county that didn’t receive any kerbside recycling service. The then contract for recycling collections was in its final 18 months, which wasn’t sufficient time to accommodate the payback to purchase a further ‘split-bodied’ vehicle for recyclable materials.

The contractor, however, was able to supply a smaller single-compartment vehicle which we could then employ for recycling collections in rural areas but this was only for one material mix at a time. These households had a four-weekly collection for cardboard and paper and another four-weekly collection for plastic, cans and glass instead of the fortnightly collections provided in the rest of the county.

Renewal of the kerbside contract in 2010 allowed us to provide every property with a fortnightly service and the decision was taken to phase out the bins, but while they were still serviceable, it would have been wasteful to remove them at that point.

Over the 10 years since the 2010 contract renewal, there have been increasing concerns expressed by recyclable waste markets around contamination and quality of materials collected. In particular, there was a notable difference in the quality of material collected in boxes compared with that collected in bins.

In 2016, the council became a signatory to the Scottish Government’s Household Waste Charter, which aims to have all councils in Scotland collecting glass separate from plastic and cans, and cardboard separate to other materials, meaning we would have to introduce a third container for glass collections.

We returned to the market in 2020 with an output specification, with the three key outputs for contract bidders as follows:

1. Deploy collection methods that ensure the collection of high-quality recyclable materials, minimise contamination and the collection of non-target materials;

2. Ensure that rejection rates for each load of materials do not exceed five per cent;

3. Ensure collection services are aligned with the requirements of Scotland’s Household Recycling Charter.

The preferred solution to achieve this was to provide a weekly ‘one pass service’ using three differently coloured containers and caddies for food waste, with all containers collected on the same day each week by a specially designed resource recovery vehicle. This solution allows us to comply with the charter, maintain the quality of the materials being collected, and reduce the number of times we are sending a vehicle to collect from each street.

Every property in East Lothian, whether in a town, village or rural setting, will receive the same waste collection services. The quality of materials collected for recycling in East Lothian is one of the highest in the country and this has greatly reduced the amount of waste going to disposal.

Tom Reid

Head of Infrastructure

East Lothian Council