By Steve Chilton
THE “wrong” sort of leaves are mainly responsible for landing Coventry taxpayers with an unwanted windfall – a bill for £58,000.
The rogue leaves fall on roads and public footpaths and are therefore classed as being contaminated by traffic exhaust and other pollutants.
They are carted off on a 15-mile trip to a private recycling plant in Rugby where they have to to be washed before being composted.
Last year, this method of disposing of 1,733 tonnes of street sweepings, believed to be largely massive falls of autumn leaves, cost £58,575.
But confusingly, the street leaves of Coventry aren’t deemed toxic if they are swept up by public-spirited residents wanting to keep the pavement clear.
They can put the leaves in their garden waste wheelie bins. Their contents go to other contractors for composting in a system called in-vessel.
The saga came to light when a home-owner in Earlsdon, which has many tree-lined streets, queried why it was taking so long to clear the leaves.
A workman told him: “We have to take them to Rugby.”
Further inquiries revealed an unlikely-yet-true story to rival the much-ridiculed reports that “wrong” types of leaves on railtracks caused train delays.
In Coventry, it’s not so much the species of tree the leaves come from that makes them wrong. It’s where they land and who sweeps them up.
The confusion began in 2012 when the Environment Agency told local authorities that street-collected leaves could not be sent for composting, unless decontaminated, because of pollution from vehicle emissions.
That’s the advice followed by Coventry City Council. To a point.
A council statement said: “Street sweeping leaves are treated at a facility where the various elements are broken down to be recycled/composted.
“We utilise a contract that was let by Warwickshire County Council. This means the street swept leaves go to a company called Suez, which is in Rugby. We deliver direct.”
But there is no such requirement for the same leaves if collected up by a resident.
The statement continued: “Leaves are an acceptable item in the brown lidded bin which is sent to an in-vessel composting facility. People who sweep up leaves outside their property can put the leaves in their brown lidded bin.
“The amount swept up and put in bins by local people is relatively small – and this small amount can be dealt with in with the larger amount of garden waste by our composting contractor.”
But other councils have taken a harder line. Earlier this year Trafford Council in Manchester did a u-turn after having at first adopted the same approach as Coventry.
After being challenged, Trafford Council conceded that it was contradictory and ruled that residents’ bins containing leaves and tree debris would not be emptied as “it will be impossible for the crews to determine whether the leaves came from the street or the garden”.
*Green-note: Where does the compost go? Largely to cap vast landfill sites with a fertile layer of soil.