Those who want to see the end of Wyecycle say the following:
- why don’t they recycle plastics?
- why are we being charged by Wyecycle to collect tin cans and aluminium?
- the organisation has become detached from the community which it serves. It should be constituted as a community interest company.
- the yard and the vans are unhygenic
- the organisation is too small to survive and that recycling only becomes cost effective when you have economies of scale
- no external body has any control over the quality of service
These are important issues and are partly why I felt unable to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Richard Boden (founder of Wyecycle) at a recent Wyecycle meeting. I have put many of these things to him throughout the year and have thus far not obtained satisfactory answers.
Meanwhile those who support Wyecycle and would like it to continue say the following:
- we should as a community continue to take responsibility for our own waste. This has many benefits – encouraging us not to produce so much in the first place and minimising the ‘waste miles’ associated with its disposal.
- Wyecycle supplies useful occasional employment to villagers. The organisation also provides an approachable entry-point to the workplace for young offenders and other disadvantaged youth.
- The organisation has spawned several other ground-breaking initiatives (notably the Farmers’ Market and Wye Community Farm) which could be threatened if Wyecycle disappears.
- Biffa will impose a system on Wye which has been designed to work across three boroughs. It will not be tailor-made for Wye. There are therefore likely to be a number of large bins on the village’s narrow streets.
- Biffa will have no connection with the community and any profits will end up in shareholders pockets elsewhere.
Recently I wrote that, “Wyecycle has been starved of proper support for so long that it’s not really operating as a ‘community’ recycling company and it’s difficult to see how it can continue – given that Ashford’s chosen contractor Biffa has said that it’s not prepared to subcontract”.
Since then, Steve Wright (the borough councillor) has written to Richard and I to say that he would like to see Wyecycle continue. Richard has also managed to mobilise some supporters who have been lobbying me and the borough councillor about the benefits of community recycling.
I have never doubted the benefits. But I just need to understand how it might be possible for the organisation to survive and in what form?
This afternoon I spoke to Nicky Scott who runs Proper Job in Chagford in Devon – an organisation which Richard agreed provided a model for Wyecycle before the self-sufficiency exhibition last year.
Nicky told me that he visited Wye twice in the 1990s and that Richard Boden had done a lot to inspire him. What was apparent from our conversation, however, was that Proper Job has adapted in order to survive – so that now it makes most of its money through reuse rather than recycling.
It has four cabins that sell clothing, for example, and two that sell books. It also sells CDs and records, old tools and partly-used tins of paint.
Mainstream recycling (of bottles and papers etc) in Chagford is carried out by West Devon’s main contractor (who Nicky thought was SITA). He said that they no longer bother with this recycling because they simply can’t compete with an efficient contractor. (Devon is one of the top places in the country for recycling.)
And, besides, they don’t need to.
Proper Job currently employs the equivalent of 3 1/2 full-time villagers with the only income coming from recycling credits, selling of books and clothes etc, and donations for their compost. Nicky himself no longer takes a salary (ie. he’s not one of the 3 1/2) – but is instead employed by the council to teach recycling in schools.
To me this is a clear way forward for Wyecycle – which could win the support of the local council, the main contractor and the village alike.
Having had this conversation, I’m not sure that I can support Wyecycle as an alternative to Biffa – despite the obvious hassle of the wheelie bins and my dislike of large corporations.
But an organisation that focused more on reuse than recycling, and on the areas not covered by the main contractor? Yes. That is something I would wholeheartedly support.