ARDS and North Down Council’s massive bins crackdown is now just days away from starting. The new rules for household bin collections and using Household Recycling Centres (HRCs) come into force on Monday, and will affect all 140,000 people in the borough. The crackdown involves strictly enforcing some of the toughest sanctions in the province. It can see people get their collections cut off for putting rubbish in the wrong bin, or turned away from HRCs if new inspectors reckon any of their waste looks like something that isn’t normally found in local homes.

Starting on December 5:  Grey bins will be inspected to make sure no recyclable waste is in them.  Warning stickers will be put on bins with the wrong rubbish in them. Anyone who continues to put rubbish in the wrong bin will be temporarily cut off from collection routes.  Everyone from outside Ards and North Down is banned from using the borough’s nine HRCs.  

The public will have to prove they’re locals to use HRCs, and will be interrogated on arrival.  If inspectors suspect anyone isn’t telling the truth – for example, they’re coming to the HRC too often, or their waste doesn’t look like household rubbish – they’ll be barred from entry.

Landfill skips will be watched at all times to make sure no one throws recycling into them.  Anyone who does dump recycling into landfill will be banned from using HRCs for up to six months.  People with vans or trailers will have to apply for an entry permit in advance and will be watched when unloading their waste to make sure that it’s definitely all household rubbish from their own homes.

Charities will also be subjected to rigorous inspections, while officials might cut back the number of landfill skips in each HRC to force people to use recycling facilities. Predicted to save the council up to £1m a year in landfill fees, the new regime is coming as the local authority continues to struggle to bring its two-year recycling crisis under control. Currently the borough buries around two-fifths of its waste as landfill – more than anywhere else in Northern Ireland, and almost double the provincewide average. And it’s estimated that around half of that landfilled waste could have been recycled instead. Council officials say that locals are wrongly putting recyclable waste into bins destined for landfill in both HRCs and domestic bin collections, leading to the tough new approach.

The crackdown has been on the cards for a while, and has regularly been discussed by councillors and officials over the past few months. When the regime was formally announced a couple of weeks ago, the council stated that ‘there is no valid excuse for not adopting a routine household waste recycling habit’. In a statement setting out reasons for the bins crackdown, the local authority added: “Many residents are not recycling routinely, or as much as they should, and we are therefore calling upon every householder to take simple steps to recycle to the maximum.”

The recycling crisis has taken the council from one of the best performing districts in Northern Ireland to one of the worst. It also saw landfill fees shoot up to around £5m per year – and it’s predicted that figure could hit £6m next year due to spiralling inflation. The crackdown is an attempt to deal with that. It hasn’t proved universally popular with councillors, however, with some worried that the approach is all stick and no carrot. Speaking privately, some politicians voiced fears that the tough sanctions could hurt their chances at the ballot box as they campaign to keep their seats in May’s elections – though others see the new regime as a necessary evil that’s the only plausible way to tackle the recycling crisis.