5 steps for a Waste Collection Authority to address the Climate Emergency

Climate emergencies are being declared across the UK, we at Frith Resource Management have seen this locally, our town Council in Bridgnorth has done the same and we are supporting them on calculating the carbon impact of their activities (I am conducting a waste audit today!). We also see it through our other community work, helping to ‘green’ local events, reduce plastic waste and lower carbon impacts.

If you are a WCA, the carbon impacts of this service are significant, and whilst the temptation is to focus primarily on the vehicles used in the collection and their movements, there are wider and potentially greater savings to be made elsewhere. The quantum of these savings and their priority order is unique to the District / Borough or Unitary authority, however improvements in any of the following areas will yield carbon benefits.

Waste Prevention - Arguably one of the more problematic areas to deliver, certainly one of the more difficult ones to measure, and furthermore an area where the business case is best made at the Waste Disposal Authority level. All that said, preventing unnecessary consumption of items, packaging or food waste, will yield the largest carbon benefit, per tonne, of any of the steps outlined here. And the answer lies in a combination of education, communications, effective systems and potentially enforcement. The WCA can facilitate these messages through their communications with residents and, potentially partnering with the WDA (in two tier areas) to make the financial case for tackling arisings and behaviour. Restriction of residual waste capacity and provision of home composting can help deliver reductions in collected waste (some of which may be true prevention, in other cases it is ‘diversion’), whilst campaigns on food waste reduction and true prevention messages and behaviours can help reduce emissions and support other collection related initiatives (see below).

Reuse, Repair & Take Back schemes – The WCA role here is to facilitate and help inform. Facilitation through partnerships on bulky waste collections, to encourage the reuse / repair of appropriate items, and through signposting and supporting networks, ‘sharing’ activities, community groups, circular economy initiatives and other activity to promote use of items in their current (or refurbished) form. Informing residents on access to these networks or services and also simple measures to re-use in the home or at work, can support this area of activity, again leading to substantial carbon savings through avoided manufacture and associated supply and retail chain impacts.

Effective Recycling systems and Outlets – This is probably the area with the highest degree of influence and greatest magnitude of impact for a typical WCA. It is a factor of the design of the collection, the education and communications to the resident (or business) and the resultant effective participation in the system. In general, the more actual recycling (not just separate collection), the greater the carbon benefit. There is nuance to this, for example closed loop glass recycling performs better in carbon terms than glass to aggregate, but if the systems to segregate result in less participation then this can have the counter result. Whichever approach is taken, it is the effectiveness of the system that is important, to encourage participation, maximise yield of as wide a range of dry recyclables that can secure markets. There is not a once size fits all, as has been evidenced across the UK for many years. Councils can also have a role in ‘buying recycled’ and stimulating demand. Food waste collection for anaerobic digestion will also normally have a notable carbon benefit versus those authorities that don’t collect it, and this is partly because the magnitude of this activity usually outweighs the impact of the following area..…

Efficient Collection Systems – Here is where the collection vehicles and mode of collection are considered. I have deliberately ‘played this element down’ because it is often viewed as the biggest carbon impact, but in reality it usually isn’t, however it does remain a significant factor in the system as a whole and savings can be realised using the following methods. The collection can be optimised by system design, choice of vehicles, vehicle fuel, vehicle and driver management and route optimisation. There can also be efficiencies in the alignment with allied collections such as trade waste and street cleansing operations.

Working Holistically – First and foremost this is the consideration, in two tier areas, of alignment with the Waste Disposal Authority services and carbon management. There is no benefit to the environment of a Waste Collection Authority saving carbon, for example via avoidance of green waste collections, if this means a greater proportion of garden waste entering the residual stream and going to landfill thereby creating damaging methane emissions at the WDA level. Conversely, and as stated above, the WDA will benefit greatly from waste prevention, and also may do so from food waste collection and so should support the WCA in achievement of these actions. In addition to Councils working together, there are businesses and community groups that can be supported by the WCAs – the Council should be viewed as a gateway, not a barrier. More action, as vocally evidenced by Extinction Rebellion, is coming from grass roots organisations, but that is only one element of such movements. There are willing networks seeking to positively influence waste management and climate change, take the opportunity to engage with them.

Frith Resource Management work with Councils, private contractors and other organisations to promote effective waste and carbon management, call us on 01746 552423, or email me on paul@frithrm.com

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