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Recycling Investment Fund in Ards and North Down

Ards and North Down Borough Council established its 'Recycling Community Investment Fund' in 2016 as a thank you to residents for their recycling efforts. Since then, the funding has been used to support a range  of projects that directly benefit local residents and neighbourhoods.

Recycling pays. It costs the Council half as much to recycle waste compared to the cost of sending it to landfill and consequently almost £15m has been saved in landfill costs since the programme’s inception. A portion of these savings is ring-fenced every year and made available to the Recycling Community Investment Fund for use in environmental projects in the borough. A number of projects have been awarded funding since the programme started and a brief overview of the projects is provided below.

C.L.E.A.R (Community Learning Environmental Awareness Responsibility)

Education is fundamental to improving environmental behaviours, starting with children and young people whose attitudes and behaviours in later life will be shaped by what they learn at school. Building on the success of a pilot, year 8 pupils from 14 post primary schools were invited to participate in a highly interactive and memorable environmental education project which aimed to shift the mindset of the next generation, so that recycling and reusing resources and materials will become the norm.

ECO Warriors

The Council’s Community Development Team utilised RCIF funding to ensure people attending clubs were empowered to make a difference in their local environment through increased knowledge and awareness of what they can do to protect and enhance it. In total, 140 children and 40 adults participated in a range of environmental activities such as vegan cookery, bat interactive talks, forestry workshops (building bug hotels, exploration of woodland and learning about wildlife), recycling awareness workshops, and biodiversity projects etc. 

An Intergeneration Environmental Project was also delivered involving Holywood Mens Shed who mentored children in building a plastic bottle greenhouse (see picture).  

Summer Scheme Fun Day

Play is an intrinsic and important part of children’s learning and helps to shape their future development. This project involved teaching approximately 500 young people about how their daily actions impact on our environment, in a fun and interactive way. Workshops covered a range of topics such as: reducing food waste, sustainable food production as well as providing a healthy daily food offering to reduce holiday hunger and provide families with sustainable, cheap and nutritious meal ideas. 

Around 200 of these enthusiastic young people congregated in a pollution themed ‘flash mob’ in Newtownards Conway Square in August 2019 to highlight the problems caused by single use plastics.

Beach Clean Boards

For every 100m walked on an NI beech there is an average of 700 pieces of plastic. This plastic harms wild-life, ruins our natural environment and can enter our food chain.

Beach boards are a mechanism to enable walkers to lend a hand and pick up small amounts of litter on their walk, thereby enabling the ethos of ‘many hands make light work!’ 

From Groomsport to Portavogie, the boards have proven to be very successful. Each board is replenished daily, and are used to collect an average of 3-4 bags of rubbish per day. Therefore, over the period that the Boards are in situ (April-September), it is estimated that at least 500-600 bags of rubbish are being removed from the borough’s coastline. This figure does not include bags that people may bring themselves.

Schools Recycling and Education Scheme

This was a school recycling campaign combining educating and improved infrastructure to substantially improve school recycling rates and decrease the amount of waste going to landfill. The funding paid for large external recycling bins, classroom bins, biodegradable waste bins, food waste caddies, and trade waste food caddies across 44 participating schools involving over 10,000 students. As a direct result of the project, recycling rates have increased significantly and there has been greater public interest in council recycling programmes e.g. a reported spike in downloads of the council’s 'bin-ovation' app. The project also supported Eco School applications as the new facilities were used as evidence of recycling improvements, one of the requirements of the programme. 

Live Here Love Here Small Grants

The Recycling Community Investment Fund was used to 'top up' Live Here Love Here Small Grants, which typically fund community led environmental improvement projects in the region of between £500 and £5,000 per project. The Council contributed an uplift using RCIF funding, resulting in a total of £75,000 being made available in 2018/19 to support 23 local projects. These projects attracted over 5000 volunteering hours and £23,000 in match funding for the local area.

Sea Bins

As a response to the plastic crisis in our oceans, the council piloted Northern Ireland’s first ‘sea bins', located in 3 strategic locations close to Bangor. The bins move up and down with the tide, collecting rubbish in the process. Each bin can catch an estimated 1.5kg of floating debris per day including micro-plastics up to 2mm small. Water is sucked in from the surface and passes through a catch bag inside. The water is then pumped back into the marina leaving litter and debris in the catch bag to be disposed of properly.

The most commonly caught large items are dog poo bags, disposable drinks container lids e.g. coffee cup lids and cigarette ends. The educational value of the Seabins has been significant. News of the bins has spread to schools as far away as North Belfast, with schools travelling to the borough for educational talks and site visits at the Seabins in Bangor. So far, 18 educational talks and visits have been carried out with schools, community associations and youth groups. The large signs located on the shore by each sea-bin are also very successful in educating people. It also received national attention when it featured on The One Show as well as numerous news and radio channels.

Community Group Litter Packs

The Council lends litter-picking equipment to community groups and schools to help with organised tidy ups, litter picks and general cleaning up after events. In recent years the demand for this equipment has soared, as more and more environmentally switched on groups consider how they can help to improve their local environment.

RCIF funding was used to supply more litter packs to community groups. Since April 2019, 65 community litter picks have utilised support available through the project. This equates to approx. 650 bags of waste collected by around 1800 volunteers.

Village Facelift

'Village Facelift is a scheme providing support for villages in tackling their dereliction problems, improve civic pride, and help motivate and inspire people to look after the environment.

The Council’s Community Development Team partnered with County Down Rural Community Network (CDRCN) to identify 5 derelict locations and restore the sites. A survey conducted in the community involved concluded that the project improved the image of the village and contributed positively to civic pride.

Single Use Plastics and Compostables

This project worked with local businesses encouraging them to reduce their use of traditional plastic packaging materials and replace them with compostable alternatives.

Food takeaway businesses were approached across the borough to take part. 52 businesses signed up. A range of compostable items were sources including food cartons, straws, knives, forks, spoons and grease proof paper. 19 of the 52 participants stated they are now exploring adopting compostable items in the future. The main barrier for businesses preventing a transition is the increased cost.

Cigarette Ballot Bins

Cigarette butts are one of the most polluting plastics on the streets and in the oceans. The Council has introduced cigarette 'Ballot Bins' in the borough, which display a question on a topical or controversial subject and two alternative answers. Smokers vote by putting their cigarette butt in the slots underneath their preferred answer. The litter stacks up behind the clear glass front, in two columns, showing which answer is most popular.

In partnership with local businesses, 32 bins have been strategically placed outside smoking hotspots across the borough. On average each bin is being emptied once a month which is an increase on cigarette bins previously used, and independent analysis shows the Ballot Bin reduces cigarette butt litter by 46%.



2018/19 saw the successful delivery of 36 RCIF funded projects. The 36 projects have their own specific yet related goals, and they all contribute to the overarching RCIF aims. Projects broadlyl fall into three distinct focus areas: Education, Community and Business Support - a wholly sustainable scheme.