Resource Use

Work progressing on collection harmonisation

Work progressing on collection harmonisationAssessment of the possibility of creating greater consistency in household waste and recycling collections in England has entered its second phase, the Waste & Recycling Action Programme (WRAP) announced today (12 February).

Working closely with Resources Minister Rory Stewart, a Harmonisation and Consistency Working Group consisting of representatives from local authorities (LAs), waste management contractors, recyclers, producers and the retail sector has been researching the possibility of realising Stewart’s vision of giving LAs a limited choice of ‘five or six’ different collection systems within the next 10 years.

WRAP has been leading the group and has today said that the first phase has been completed. In this phase, it says, the group has considered a range of scenarios, models and different approaches to consistency and areas for further investigation.

The results of this work will now be taken forward to an advisory group and form the second phase, which will lead to the publication this summer of a vision for greater consistency in collections, what it means for England and the opportunities for different stakeholders.

According to WRAP, certain elements of harmonised collections will 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. The group is also developing ideas around working with demonstrator LAs and wider supply chain initiatives.

All parts of value chain have a role to play

Announcing that work is progressing, Marcus Gover, Director at WRAP, said: “We are looking to develop a vision for England that will offer local authorities a way to recycle greater volumes of higher-quality materials whilst reducing costs, delivering good services to residents and supporting growth in the recycling sector.

“This is not just about what local authorities do, though; all parts of the value chain have a role to play in achieving greater consistency and improving recycling.”

Resources Minister Rory Stewart added: “Recycling is really important for our economy and environment and I’m pleased to see the great progress underway to look at reducing the number of collection systems across England.

“I urge the whole waste sector to work together with us over the coming years to deliver greater consistency in the way we recycle. The work by WRAP will eventually mean everyone across the country will be clear on what and how they can recycle.”

Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of steering group member the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), added: “Delivering greater consistency in waste collections would make recycling easier for families across the country, and help improve recycling rates – particularly where separate food waste collections are provided. 

“The advisory group has held very productive discussions, and Rory Stewart’s leadership has been enormously welcome. We look forward to continuing to work with the advisory group and our members across the AD industry in phase two, ensuring more food waste can be recycled as energy and fertiliser.”

Consistency drive background

Stewart first declared his intentions to seek a solution to the variation in council collection systems at last October’s Conservative Party Conference.

Speaking at a fringe session, the minister expressed a desire to make systems more uniform over the coming decade, suggesting that a choice of ‘five or six different systems’ could be suggested to LAs.

At the time, he said: “It is mad in terms of us as householders, crossing those ‘Berlin Walls’ on London streets and trying to work out what is in our waste. It is mad from the point of view of the waste industry trying to work out how to get any economies of scale, it’s mad in terms of the councils themselves. It doesn’t save them any money having these different systems for waste.”

When announcing that work on harmonisation had begun last November, Gover emphasised that the working group is not developing a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’, but rather identifying a small number of approaches to recycling collections to increase yields and quality, while reducing costs to LAs.

Local authority response

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) says that the drive to limit the number collection systems will not lead to a sudden increase in England’s stalled recycling rate, instead putting the blame on a lack of financial support.

The body has pointed to Wales, where it says a consistent increase in recycling rate is the result of a ‘clear policy drive’ for high recycling.

LARAC Chair Andrew Bird also wrote in a comment piece for Resource late last year that concentrating on messages given to the public and the materials collected rather than how collections are carried out would be more beneficial to the English recycling rate. Indeed, LARAC’s policy position supports the long-term drive to harmonise the colour of containers and a minimum range of materials collected, but the body maintains that local authorities require flexibility to provide the best services to residents.

Voluntary blueprints for collections already exist in Wales and now Scotland, after the Scottish Government launched its Scottish Household Recycling Charter in December, with Falkirk becoming the first LA to sign up last week.