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Government still keen to break down 'Berlin Walls' of kerbside collection, despite radio silence on harmonisation vision

Government still keen to break down 'Berlin Walls' of kerbside collection, despite radio silence on harmonisation visionCollection consistency is still a priority for the government and work on a future plan will continue later in the year, despite signs that investigations into the possibility of limiting the variety of kerbside waste collection systems have not gone as planned.

Since November, a working group comprised of local authorities (LAs), waste management contractors, recyclers, producers and retailers has been working on the idea, initiated by former-Resources Minister Rory Stewart.

Stewart stated at last year’s Conservative Party Conference that it is “completely mad” that each LA in England is collecting waste in different ways and that in London, where migration between boroughs is common and frequent, the different collection systems were creating “Berlin Walls” for residents.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which is leading the group, announced in February that the first phase of the project had been completed, with a range of scenarios, models and different approaches to consistency and areas for further investigation considered. The organisation went on to say that an advisory group would be looking at the results as part of a second phase, which would culminate with the publication of a vision for greater consistency in English collections and the opportunities presented by it, before the summer recess of Parliament, which begins today (21 July).

During Stewart’s appearance at this year’s Resourcing the Future Conference in June it seemed that the minister was dampening expectations for the project by not mentioning the vision and telling attendees that his “gut instinct” told him that “all of this stuff is deeply, deeply local” and mentioning a ‘no-one-size-fits-all’ mindset.

Ministerial reshuffle causing delay

Following Stewart’s diffidence on the subject there has been no publication this week, but WRAP says that the delay was due to the governmental upheaval which saw Stewart moved to a role in the Department for International Development last week. Therese Coffey has taken his place as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, but it has not yet been confirmed whether she will take over Stewart’s brief at the department.

Government still keen to break down 'Berlin Walls' of kerbside collection, despite radio silence on harmonisation vision
Rory Stewart was replaced at Defra by Therese Coffey
A WRAP spokesperson said: “Following the ministerial reshuffle, the publication of our work on greater consistency in household recycling in England is now expected later this year.”

The spokesperson also confirmed that work is ongoing on the potential slimming of collection options for LAs, and that the delay is not a sign that the issue is being swept under the carpet: “Improving consistency in household recycling is still very much a priority for WRAP and Defra and we continue to work closely in this area.”

Harmonisation drive

The first phase of the Harmonisation and Consistency project looked at a range of models for a more harmonised service across England, as well as identifying areas that needed further investigation.

According to WRAP, certain elements of harmonised collections need to be considered further, including which materials would be collected, as well as the potential to rationalise collections around three main systems, which WRAP says would offer an opportunity to standardise collection containers.

Writing for Resource earlier this year, new WRAP Chief Executive Marcus Gover explained that the variety of collection systems in England, of which there are ‘currently more than 100’, ‘has to change for a number of reasons’.

‘First and foremost because we need to do better by our householders… Doing better doesn’t necessarily mean fewer bins, or even standardising the colours of all the bins. It’s more than that; it’s about a holistic approach to the whole system and supply chain.’

Gover explained that greater consistency would enable LAs to create and share communications to residents more easily and producers of packaging to more explicitly say what was recyclable and what was not. All of this would make residents more confident about what they could and could not put in with their recycling.

However, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) has said that the drive to limit the number collection systems would not lead to a sudden increase in England’s stalled recycling rate, instead putting the blame on a lack of financial support. The body pointed to Wales, where it says a consistent increase in recycling rate is the result of a ‘clear policy drive’ for high recycling.

More information can be found in Marcus Gover’s comment for Resource.

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