THE council’s head of Environmental Services, Richard Brown, has said Pembrokeshire’s recently introduced new waste and recycling scheme has proved positive, despite teething problems.

The new waste recycling scheme got off to a mixed start earlier this month, with people complaining of fly-tipping and new kit not being delivered.

Hundreds of people responded to a Western Telegraph Facebook post, asking how the first collection had gone on Monday, November 4.

Confusion over the new waste system has led to a rise in bin fires, a councillor has previously claimed.

Speaking to the Western Telegraph, Mr Brown said the council had learned from the experiences of other local authorities which had introduced similar schemes.

“When you look at what other local authorities have done and the problems they’ve had, it’s all gone well

“WRAP (Waste Recycling Application Programmes) has said it’s gone amazingly well compared with others.

“I fully accept there have been problems and would’ve preferred there hasn’t been, but there’s a huge amount of positives there.”

He said small changes had caused many of the problems of missed collections.

“A lot of people haven’t adjusted to the new times, the days may not have changed but the times have changed; they have not put it out until after we’ve gone through.”

He said there had been issues with red recycling bags being ‘soft contaminated’ with the wrong refuse.

“If it’s just a small amount we pick it out, but the guys do not have time to sort everything through.

“90 per cent of people have got it right first time, there’s a small amount of people with minor issues, a very small percentage of people who maybe completely misunderstood the system.

“The quality of materials that has come out has been really good.

“Whilst miss-collections are widely reported, the majority are down to misunderstandings.”

When asked whether a trial of the new scheme may have ironed out any problems, he said: “I’m not sure what basis we would’ve carried it out.

“We’ve the 14th local authority to go down this route, we’ve had the benefit from learning from these local authorities; it sounds an easy thing to say: should we have done a pilot? But the system is known to work, we would’ve always encountered these problems.

“We’ve 25 lorries covering the county rather than 11, by doing a pilot we’re changing things for one area; we know the system works, its used by more than half the authorities in Wales.”

A concern raised about the new purple bags for absorbent hygiene was down to problems beyond the council’s control, Mr Brown said.

“The issue of that is really down to a software issue, a new system, we knew there would always be more complications. The developers have given it to us at a point where its perhaps not fully refined; we had to resort to a paper system at first due to software glitches; we had to put a bit of a hold with distributing bags.

“It is now working, we are now in the process of getting bags to everyone. That has been a problem.”

The changes, and concerns raised, have led to many calls to the council’s call centre.

“It’s the biggest communication exercise the authority has probably had,” said Mr Brown. “If there was a major problem with the 'comms' we would’ve had a lot of people getting it wrong; when you’re dealing with 65,000 households a small proportion of that represents a problem.

“There were long delays in the call centres for the first few days, ideally we would’ve had more people to do that but it’s not as easy as it seems, we’ve had to train people up to do that. Delays are now a fraction of week one; with hindsight we would’ve liked to have more resources to deal with that but there’s a practical level for dealing with that.

“There’s really good information on the website, it’s helpful to point people to that; we’re not just talking about the older generation, a number of people haven’t just looked to the sources of the information.

“There have been a huge number of compliments, people loving it.

“We’ve always had food waste. What it has highlighted is people who haven’t previously recycled.”

He raised the possibility of some members of the public with specific issues being able to access a blue multi-bag.

“The bag is predominantly for people with mobility issues, often people who don’t generate much waste, it’s not suitable for the majority of people.

“We are trialling out the light blue bags, just contact the council. If you’re walking with a stick it helps when you’ve just got to bring one bag; it’s proven popular with the small number of people who’ve dealt with it. We want this to work for everybody.”

He said fears that some areas of the county like Monton and the Mount Estate getting more frequent collections was a matter of pragmatism rather than preferential collections, difficulties accessing blocks of flats leading to the more frequent collections.

“We can’t get a lorry in, having to look at bespoke solutions, we need to work with landlords to come up with solutions.

“It’s not because there’s special treatment, just a pragmatic solution; as far as possible it is a level playing field.”

He stressed the changes were purely to increase the council’s recycling rates, with hefty fines being faced for any failures to meet targets.

“Why wouldn’t people want to recycle? What the crews are finding is the weight of the black bags, now grey, is a fraction of what it was; the vast majority of what people were throwing away is coming out of it.

“The scheme is pushing those individuals who don’t have a background in recycling.

“Before we introduced the scheme we worked with WRAP to look at Pembrokeshire’s waste, to come up with a solution that would work for Pembrokeshire. This scheme is the only one that would ensure we meet out future recycling targets. Wales, unlike England, has some very challenging targets.

“The whole process, it works in other areas; yes, there’s a short-term upheaval and disruption, but from the experience from other areas it quickly settles down. That upheaval process is settling down already.

“It’s easy for people to throw stones but actually when we’ve looked at all the different systems we’re left with the only system that meets our targets.

“We would be set up to fail, the fines are eye-watering; £140,000 for missing targets by just one per cent.

“Pembrokeshire has 62 per cent recycling; this year’s target is 64 per cent, we will get that target.

“The orange bag scheme was good, it was well-liked, but it was a feature of its time; we simply cannot afford to be paying hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines, it could be £1m a year for not improving; we would be paying money out of Pembrokeshire to the Welsh Government for no benefit to the people of Pembrokeshire.”

He said increased recycling could also improve employment opportunities in the county.

“We are seeing already a huge improvement; week two was a huge improvement on week one, that will improve as people get used to it, it becomes second-nature.

“The whole thing will be clean, you get good quality recycling. By providing good quality recycling all that material can then be recycled, not having to be thrown away or looking for cheap overseas markets to ‘dump’ it. Good quality recycling that can actually be used in Wales in a circular economy, creating jobs.”

He finished: “People think we’re just being difficult, trying to make life complicated for people, but there’s a reason behind it.”