Northern Ireland region signs up for pioneering zero waste circular economy strategy
A Northern Irish region has adopted a new economic strategy aimed at transitioning to a zero waste circular economy, with the potential to save up to £3 million a year as a result.
Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC), one of 11 local authorities in Northern Ireland, covers a population of around 150,000, and currently has the lowest household waste recycling rate in the country (33 per cent in 2015/16).
In partnership with Zero Waste North West, a community group campaigning for zero waste living in the region, and part-funded by the central Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), DCSDC commissioned a feasibility study from environmental consultancy firm Eunomia Research & Consulting to explore the issues and opportunities stemming from a zero waste circular economy model.
The full strategy, which can be read on Eunomia’s website, draws on examples of international best practice from similar sized municipalities in Europe making the same transition, and presents four potential models for maximising resource productivity and reducing the generation of waste. Each model contains a different combination of changes including: charging for garden waste, restriction of capacity of residual waste, subsidised home composting, reusable nappy schemes, separate food collection and various kerbside sort scenarios.
Zero Waste North West identifies a change to kerbside sort from a co-mingled collection system as the most important policy raised in the strategy. Currently, all the recyclate collected by DCSDC is sorted outside the region, while over 90 per cent of that material is then exported outside the country (either to the UK or abroad) to be reprocessed. At the same time, reprocessors and manufacturers in the area and in Northern Ireland more widely are having to import recyclables from outside the country to supply their businesses.
The strategy thus recommends moving to a system of separate collection, which would improve the quality of recyclate and encourage the development of local reprocessing capacity. With China’s ban on imported waste now in force, questions of quality and capacity have been raised across the UK and Europe, making the strategy’s recommendations extremely prescient. Moreover, a study from July last year by the Collaborative Circular Economy Network showed that by improving the quality of recyclable materials, Northern Ireland could unlock an extra £50 million of economic potential by keeping valuable material in the country.
Eunomia has forecast that the strategy could create 50 new jobs and save the council up to £3 million a year, or £49 per household, as well as enabling DCSDC (in each potential scenario) to achieve the EU recycling target of 50 per cent by 2020 - a target the UK as a whole is expected to miss.
These results will be achieved not only through changes to collection methods, preventing the leakage of valuable materials into residual waste streams, but by ‘a culture shift in both attitude and behaviour’ towards waste, with a programme of public education to redefine waste as ‘vital resources’.
Proposed policies in the strategy are split into six themes:
- Behavioural change and education - to communicate to residents the benefits of the zero waste circular economy strategy, and conduct continued community engagement to encourage waste prevention.
- Preparation for reuse - to increase the amount of material reused locally through reuse and repair initiatives, also contributing to job creation.
- Resource collection approach - to review and alter the kerbside collection to optimise the value attained.
- Green procurement - to embed circular and zero waste principles throughout the council by applying green procurement criteria to all purchasing activity.
- Circular economy business support - to advise and fund businesses to shift towards circular economy models.
- National support - to lobby for national legislative support for the strategy.
‘Compelling’ strategy puts council at forefront of circular transition
Conor Canning, Head of Environment at DCSDC, said that the strategy “points the way towards achieving sustainable waste management practices, while also creating economic activity by linking job creation to waste recovery and treatments. The report concludes that a zero waste circular economy is achievable and has the potential to yield significant economic, social and environmental benefits”.
From Zero Waste North West, Judi Logue added: “The fact that implementing it will create local jobs while saving the council millions is compelling. The strategy won cross party support; that puts us ahead of nearly all other council regions within the UK and the island of Ireland, giving us the opportunity to be a region leading the transition. We are excited at the prospect of its implementation and look forward to working with council in the coming years.”
To emphasis the area’s commitment to taking a lead in waste reduction, Zero Waste North West has called for DCSDC to apply to become a Zero Waste Europe Municipality, which would allow the region to benefit from the advice and expertise of campaigning network Zero Waste Europe. Bute, in Scotland, is the currently only area in the UK with this status, though Scotland has four more ‘Zero Waste Towns’.
Since adopting the strategy in December 2017, DCSDC has already been taking steps to enact its zero waste pledge, unanimously passing a motion in January to become ‘single-use plastic free’ within five years.