Row over leaked email allegedly showing 'Sheffield's recycling has been incinerated'

Veolia.
Veolia.

A 'scandalous' leaked email has allegedly revealed that tonnes of Sheffield's waste materials intended for recycling have instead been diverted to an incinerator.

An email obtained by the GMB trade union claims to show that Veolia - a private company which handles waste management for the council - has been diverting recyclable rubbish away from household waste recycle centres to the company's own ERF incinerator.

However, Veolia has flat out denied the claims and described the union's allegations as 'false and entirely incorrect.'

The union indicated the firm may have introduced the policy because they have in the past struggled to get fuel to power their incinerator.

But doing this, they claimed, has contributed to increased pollution, led to Sheffield's recycling rate plummeting and could have led to staff missing out on bonus payments for failing to meet recycling targets.

They described the leaked information as a 'scandal' and accused the company of 'misleading Steel City residents'.

Peter Davies, senior organiser for the GMB, said: "The people of Sheffield need to know when they bring their waste it is recycled in the main - not deliberately diverted and burned to boost Veolia’s profits.

“This isn’t just the waste that’s going up in smoke, it’s our members’ pay with it."

The email from one Veolia senior manager to another appears to contain information about a graph that 'demonstrates that increasing ERF diversion tonnes every year for each site contributed directly to the year on year reduction to the recycling rate.'

The union said the figures, which are not attached to the leaked email, go back to 2011.

The GMB said Veolia’s contract with the council, as well as Environment Agency regulations, demand the company performs as much recycling as possible.

Veolia has previously applied to take in 50, 000 tonnes of residual waste from neighbouring councils for its incinerator amid concerns about a decline in the amount of waste it was receiving from kerbside collections. The union said as part of the deal with the council, the firm must produce energy to heat homes from the site.

Government figures released in 2014 showed Sheffield has one of the worst recycling rates in England with just above 30 per cent of the city’s rubbish being recycled. The city didn't fare much better in 2015/16, with just 31.69 per cent recycled.

The GMB claimed Veolia’s 'deliberate' waste diversion policy has led to a number of waste sites missing recycling targets, which has in turn led to staff missing out on bonuses.

But Philip Gilmour, regional director for Veolia, rubbished the claims.

He said "I can confirm that the GMB statement regarding recyclable materials from Sheffield’s Household Waste Recycling Centres is false and entirely incorrect.

"Veolia has not instructed any of the Sheffield HWRC contractors to dispose of recyclable material. I have reviewed the ‘leaked’ email that the GMB reference too and there is no such instruction in that email either. I have asked the Union to clarify this as a matter of urgency.

“The HWRC service in Sheffield is geared towards high levels of recycling and there have always been recycling targets that the service providers are targeted to achieve.

“This year’s recycling rate from our HWRCs is already two per cent above last year’s impressive achievement and we would like to thank residents for their continued efforts to support recycling in Sheffield."

A Sheffield Council spokesperson said: “Working with Veolia we are committed to maximising the amount of waste we recycle from the Household Waste Recycling Centres in the city.

“We support Veolia in sending waste that cannot be recycled to the Energy Recovery Facility wherever possible so that some value is realised from the waste rather than sending it to landfill.

“Veolia and Sheffield Council remain committed to continuing to provide high performing waste services in the city.”

In January councillors voted to end the contract with Veolia 19 years early due to 'frustrations with the lack of savings being made'. The current contract, reportedly valued at £1.3 billion when signed in 2001, will continue until April 2018 by which time the authority hopes to have a new waste services provider in place.