Is now the time to write a Municipal Waste Management Strategy?

Having helped develop or write many Municipal Waste Management Strategies (MWMS) over the past 17 years, one thing I have become well aware of, is that there is never a perfect time to write one. This is because there is always an uncertainty coming down the track which might knock your intended course off to the left or right. Whether it was the introduction and then the removal of LATS, awaiting Waste Strategy 2007, the underwhelming 2011 National Waste Policy Review, the austerity measures, an increased focus on carbon, awaiting the first or second consultations on R&WS for England, a change in local Governance / structures or a procurement that failed to deliver as hoped. Any of these (and many others) have led to delays over strategy development or revision, but that in itself introduces significant risks.

As someone who tries to surf (as in on a surf board), having a strategy and awaiting policy is a bit like waiting in the sea for the next ‘set’ (of waves) to come in – if you are positioned ready on your board, maneuvered in the right place for the swell, with a clear run ahead of you, then that gives you the best chance for riding the bigger waves that are coming towards you and making the most of the opportunity. If you don’t set yourself up for them it is much more difficult to both catch them and also to progress, and worst case you can end up in a ‘washing machine’ style wipe-out (been there!).

As we progress through 2020 we will see many local authority Joint and Individual MWMS expire, as over half of the Unitary / County Councils had this year as an end date for their strategies. Furthermore, new Unitary Councils are coming over the horizon with new aspirations and visions.

The risks of not having a valid MWMS commonly concern the following areas:-

Implementation risk: Significant changes to services that have not been subject to local consultation

Interface risk: Unintended consequences arising from a lack of strategic consideration across the service and for evolutionary progression of services

Planning risks: For development of infrastructure that is not supported by a public and strategic mandate

Procurement risks: For procurement of services or works that are not supported by a public and strategic mandate

Public Acceptability / Deliverability risk: Not bringing stakeholders together and setting out the objectives of the Council as regards waste management in the short, medium and longer term

Political Risk: Political decisions are unsupported by a framework of longer term thinking

Adaptation Risk: Options to deliver against future challenges are not considered holistically

Financial Risk: The latest thinking / technology / options around revenue generation and cost saving to meet strategic challenges are not assessed for the local context

A MWMS should consider all the foreseeable changes that might break upon it. Right now this includes projections of impacts of EPR, DRS and consistent collections guidance, but also local factors such as procurement of new services and initiatives to improve carbon impacts, local air quality and support for the circular economy. As we emerge from the immediate challenges of delivering services in a pandemic into increased austerity, the role of resource recovery and the need to manage costs becomes more important.

There are many ways to write a strategy, it need not be a major undertaking, in fact in the current climate it is important that costs are focused into key deliverables and risk mitigation, but the process should include an options and environmental (including carbon) appraisal and consult with the public and other stakeholders. Using the best evidence and consideration will help shape the service for the next decade and militate against the risks of delaying a strategy whilst waiting for the next wave of policy to reach the shore. One thing that surfing has taught me is: if it is getting rough and a bit scary out there, the best thing is to plot a safe course and ride in as efficiently as you can - don’t try and stay still and wait it out.

Frith Resource Management have supported or delivered ten MWMS & JMWMS and can provide technical expertise and guidance either as a critical friend or to deliver tasks such as options appraisals, waste flow modelling, carbon assessments and drafting documents. Call on 01746 552423 to discuss options or email paul@frithrm.com

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