A small splash in the Bristol Evening Post followed my story (below) about Tesco's takeover of the council recycling banks at their major stores. The Post's theme was that Tesco are diverting the value of the materials to their own profits, instead of to the council.
They were right. It's a takeover that's being rolled out across the country, and it's drawn well-deserved criticism.
The Post article drew more online comments than you might expect, some of them well-informed - pointing out, for instance, that collections from large recycling banks are one of the few truly profitable (as against less costly) recycling services. The council could use that income to subsidise the more costly elements of recycling collections. Tesco will use it, in part, to make selective contributions to local schools, presenting it as an altruistic measure while actually imprinting the name Tesco on impressionable minds. The rest will go into the corporate coffers.
This takeover also features a novel way of 'externalising' a commercial cost, so it doesn't have to be borne by the company. Under Tesco's usual business strategy, this usually means squeezing suppliers, but with the recycling banks it means getting the supply totally 'free'; we punters bring it along gratis, bearing the whole collection cost ourselves.
I asked the new contractors about the quality of this Tesco version of recycling. Two questions:
First, could we still deposit a whole range of plastics in the banks, as before?
Answer came there none, in spite of sending a second reminder.
Second (having ascertained a while back that there are checks in the council service to guarantee that the materials really are recycled) could we expect the same of the Tesco service - or might there be circumstnces where materials would be landfilled or incinerated?
Back comes the reply "Severnside Recycling/DS Smith Recycling have no investment in landfill, and are the market leader in diversion from landfill strategies, we always aim to return material back into the recycling stream." .
Not exactly a straight answer, then. And no word about incineration. Not even a fortnight after a second request.
So it looks like Tesco are providing us with an inferior recycling service, with no guarantees that the materials we take the trouble to provide will be recycled, and with the profits dedicated solely to Tesco's corporate aims instead of cross-subsidising the public recycling service.
Thanks, Tesco. Every little helps.
I've asked if Stockwood's only alternative plastics recycling skip (behind the Co-op) can be expanded; it's now the only place we can take many plastics. It's also the only place we know they'll really be recycled. And also the only place where the income goes to help provide council services at a time of deep cuts.
[Added 30th May:]
The tidy appearance of the recycling banks after the Tesco takeover was short lived: here's what it looked like today.
Not entirely Tesco's fault, of course, part of it's down to the punters who seem to see every recycling bin as a handy spot for a bit of flytipping. Even so, you'd think that if they can run the whole retail operation on a bank holiday, they could extend it to covering their own recycling operation.
The 'trolley' bins are newbies, just arrived - and they hold the promise that plastics of all sorts deposited here will be recycled, as when under council control. The contracting firm is based in Chippenham, and specialises in skip hire; it will be interesting to know what happens to the plastics that are overflowing from these bins. If they tell us.