Milton Keynes Council and Cory Environmental

Milton Keynes Council has been a unitary authority since 1997, covering an area of some 31 000 hectares and with a population of 235 000. It is an area of rapid growth, with 89 000 homes in 2000, expected to increase to over 100 000 by the end of 2009. The area is mainly rural but the majority of the population live in the urban area of Milton Keynes. The household refuse collections and street cleansing services have been carried out by Cory Environmental Municipal Services Limited from 2000-2009.

The initial contract was to collect household waste every week, but with groups of recyclables collected every other week, using a red box/blue box alternating system.

The authority set out monitoring arrangements for the contract, which included monthly reporting of accidents and quarterly meetings that included health and safety performance.

The authority also ensured that the contract allowed for modification in the method of collection or other matters that might change over time.

It was important for both parties that financial penalties were to be used as a last resort, following persistent failure to meet key conditions. From a health and safety perspective, this failure means matters which persist over time and could foreseeably result in serious injury. They were not to be used as a means of generating income that would undermine their usefulness in affecting change and create mistrust between the parties.

The review meetings highlighted a potential problem with the existing collection system: the alternate week collection pattern for recyclables was affecting participation rates, and there was concern at the number of cuts injuries resulting from the kerbside sorting of coloured glass, as well as the potential RSI issues.

One option would have been to go back to weekly collections and leave the problem with Cory, but both the authority and the contractor, with political support, worked together through a project team to look at alternatives which would not increase the collection costs excessively.

The review process allowed both parties to consider the health and safety implications of change for both the crews and members of the public, the quality of service provided to the public and cost.

The outcome was:

  • All dry recyclables went in a single sack;
  • Glass only stayed in the collection box;
  • Glass colour separation was stopped;
  • Vehicles were now only loaded from the nearside;
  • The number of vehicles and collections remained the same.

The modified operation commenced in 2002. It resulted in:

  • increased recycling participation rates;
  • decreasing accident rate, with less cuts from glass, as it no longer had to be handled at the kerbside, and lowered potential for RSI from kerbside sorting (as shown in the following data relating to sharps injuries).
Year Number of minor injuries Injuries reported under RIDDOR Total days lost due to sharps injuries
2001 57 5 30
2002 41 3 20
2003 9 1 5
Average 2004-2009 5 0 0
  • No transfer of risk to MRF operators as the sorting operation was mainly automatic;
  • No transfer of risk to members of the public;
  • Reduced landfill costs.

Key lessons

  • Both parties need to be open and honest during the review process. They must both have a clear understanding of each other's position, roles and responsibilities.
  • The system needs to be trialled and evaluated before committing to change.
  • Being able to modify a contract allows both parties to be flexible in the face of changing technology and in managing other aspects of the contract, such as health and safety performance.
  • The development of a good working relationship between the authority and the contractor is essential to the success of any agreement.

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Updated: 2021-06-30