CONTRACTORS refusing to empty “contaminated” recycling bins has led to a spike in complaints to Blackburn with Darwen Council, new figures show.

Informal complaints to the council have risen 25 per cent over the last year and senior figures say a large percentage of them were because Biffa operatives refused to empty recycling bins which had non-recyclables in them.

Figures to go before the council’s executive board next week show 2,324 informal complaints lodged for 2018/19.

Executive member for digital and customer services, Quesir Mahmood, said: “Within the environment department, there has been a recent marked increase in resident complaints about the doorstep waste recycling service provided by the council via its contractor Biffa.

“The majority of these complaints relate to recycle bins not being emptied. Residents putting non-recyclable material into the recycle bin causes problems for the contractor as this contamination has to be removed from the recyclates at their sorting plant before the recyclates can them be separated and transferred to the relevant waste recycling plants for treatment.

“The council then has to pay for the contaminated materials to be disposed of via landfill or energy from waste plants.

“The level of contamination in the recycle bins is high with the contractor having to regularly dispose of up to 40 tonnes of contamination each week.

“However, in 2019, the level of contamination has increased further to 60 tonnes per week.

“Under the terms of the contract, if a recycle bin is contaminated, the contractor can ‘sticker’ the bin and refuse to empty it until the contamination is removed.

“In the past month Biffa has taken a stricter approach to contamination in the recycle bin and has ‘stickered’ significantly more bins than it has previously done.

“This has led to a significant increase in complaints from residents because their recycling bin has been ‘stickered’ and not emptied until the contamination is removed. Council officers have inspected many of the bins which were the cause of complaints and in every case the bins did contain non-recyclable material.”

But formal stage one complaints have seen a 60 per cent decrease in the reported financial year.

The complaints team have recorded 183 non-statutory stage one complaints compared to the 451 received in the previous year.

This reduction is attributed to the dedicated complaints team now working closer with service managers and the successful implementation of alternative dispute resolution.

Cllr Mahmood added: "It can be easy to view complaints in a negative light.

"However, at the council, we take the view that effective monitoring of the messages provided through a complaints handling process is an essential way for an organisation to learn and improve the way it works.

"It is extremely important for a public service provider like the council to be mindful, at all times, of the feedback our service users provide.

"The challenge for us as a council going forward is to encourage our staff to embrace the positives from effective complaints handling.

"We must ensure that our monitoring processes examine the reasons behind complaints and, wherever possible, avoid these arising again.

"We must also seek to understand and share good practice so it can be repeated elsewhere in the council."

Of the 2,324 informal complaints, 1,950 concerned the environment and leisure portfolio, 198 were related to growth and development and 145 were finance and IT issues.

There were 15 housing and localities complaints as well as eight each for HR and legal and education.