Sunday, 26 June 2011

Reducing Waste in Brighton and Hove

Went to see Jason Kitcat on Tuesday at St Mary Magdalen Community Centre. He came to talk about the new Green Council and address any concerns we might have.

The UK’s first Green council has some challenges ahead of it. An £84m budget reduction over the next 4 years, a 10 year life expectancy difference between wards, and this amid increasing uncertainty on the size of future budgets to be set by the coalition.

To begin with, Kitcat clarified the 3 main aims of the Greens in Brighton and Hove

- To reduce inequality

- To make B&H the UK’s greenest city

- To create more openness in the way the council works.

He then shared council plans for a potential 20mile/hour speed limit in the city centre, a fairer balance between the highest and lowest paid council workers, some upcoming recycling pilot schemes, including a food waste collection service which is being trialled, the potential of more communal recycling bins, and a heavier use of the internet and social media to publicise the work of the council and publish information on recycling and energy usage.

This year’s Green Party local manifesto for Brighton & Hove stated “we will promote city-wide waste reduction and food waste collection, encourage more residents to compost their garden waste and continue to campaign for reduced packaging of goods” and defined a drive to “ensure 70% of the B&H domestic waste is recycled by 2015 as a move towards a zero waste city “. A tall order indeed considering we managed to recycle only 27.45% in 2009/10. Kitcat highlighted the need to first encourage reduction of waste, maintaining the Greens’ approach of “reduce, reuse and only then recycle”, a rational and optimistic line which Caroline Lucas tirelessly repeats almost as frequently as the already worn-out coalition mantra of “we’re all in this together”.

Kitcat highlighted that landfill or incineration can cost over £80 per tonne (including the corresponding taxes) compared with around £30 a tonne to recycle.

35% of our household waste is food, which is even more costly to incinerate due to the high levels of moisture. The council will work with Harvest B&H to teach residents about the food we eat and to encourage people to waste less to begin with. This will be combined with a food waste collection system looking at examples set by other countries. I hope the relevant cabinet member has read the fabulous “Waste” by Tristram Stuart, winner of this year’s Sophie Award for his “innovative, energetic, humorous and thoughtful contributions” to increase awareness of the Food Waste scandal. The book examines the extent of the problem and looks at how other countries have successfully implemented systems to deal with food waste; Biomull organic waste collections in Germany; the strict legislation prohibiting food waste in South Korea and the Japanese concept of Mottainai – a word to describe the condemnation of wastefulness. The book contains information from WRAP, an organisation whose vision is a world without waste and who reminds us that on average each UK household throws away £480 of food each year. You can read their 2009 report on household food waste here.

The Greens have long been the party for grassroots consultation and the people of B&H have proven that the issue of waste reduction is high on their agenda. Following the unfortunate closure of The Mound , the Brighthelm Centre will become the next community garden on 7th July, a welcome addition to the many recycling and gardening projects around the city.

The reaction from the residents in attendance on Tuesday was passionate and in the most part encouraging. There were questions, suggestions, and the inevitable complaints.

Impressively, the questions were all relevant, in contrast to the time that Caroline Lucas came to talk to the community at St Nicolas Church and her series of tales about life as the UK’s first Green MP descended into a lengthy discussion on parking permits. Questions included the feasibility of placing solar panels on listed buildings, the effects of the localism bill and whether community composting sites might be looted by yobbos (although I should think that seagulls are more likely to be a problem).

After just a month in charge, few fixed solutions were ready to be presented to the public, but Kitcat was able to confirm that solar panels have already been approved on 40 public buildings around town and he reiterated the Green party commitment to support residents in reducing their carbon footprint in any way they can.

The people of Brighton and Hove remain consistent in their demand for change.

With the vision and dedication of our new council I feel optimistic that our city can and will become a beacon of Mottainai, condemning wastefulness and showing appreciation for our planet's precious resources.

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