Putting the business case to the test

Linda Crichton, Head of Resource Management

It’s just over a year since we launched the Framework for greater consistency in household recycling in England, and it’s been a busy one with lots of work going on behind the scenes across the recycling supply chain. 

A major piece of work has been putting the national business case to the test at the local level. This has enabled us to assess the viability and appetite for service changes as well as informing our ongoing programme of support for local authorities. In this initial phase of work we supported seven local authority areas, covering 49 individual authorities.

These authorities weren’t all starting from the same baseline; their current service arrangements varied in terms of materials collected and collection systems adopted. This meant we were able to evaluate the business case across a range of local situations applying local performance data, costs and gate fees where available. 

So what did we find? Firstly, those partnerships that were reviewing their joint service models or preparing for future procurements, told us that it was incredibly beneficial to have evidence provided by an external source, independent of their partnership. It helped them to better understand their costs and to examine options, which they might not otherwise have considered. I was pleased that this element of challenge was well received.

And secondly, for the findings, the strength of the business case for change was mixed. It varied depending on the starting position of the authorities and their existing service profiles, which exactly mirrors the findings of the national analysis. For some authorities moving to one of the Framework models could enable them to increase recycling rates and reduce cost. For others, recycling could increase but at an additional cost. Where the three Framework systems were assessed the multi-stream and two-stream (with fibre separate) systems were, in all cases, the lower cost options compared to the co-mingled system. Again, this is in line with the national level analysis.

The key challenge is in adding a separate food waste collection cost effectively. Less than 15% of the ‘pilot’ authorities already had a food waste service, but for 80% of those, savings could be achieved through moving to one of the optimised Framework systems. 

However, for the 80% or so of the ‘pilot’ authorities currently with no weekly food waste collection and operating a fortnightly residual collection, here the opportunities for further savings or ability to add food waste at no additional cost were limited.

Many authorities were keen to look at options not considered in the national analysis such as three weekly residual waste collections and charging for garden waste collections. These service variations changed the overall cost profile and indicated improvements to recycling and food waste services could be made at no additional cost, and in some cases generate a net saving. The introduction of garden waste charges can, of course, mean fewer subscribers to the service and less garden waste contributing to recycling rates.

Finally, the pilots have increased our evidence base and provided further insights to the pressures being faced locally and the wider context within which decisions are being made. It is apparent that for some authorities, it is not just about having to demonstrate a saving from any potential service change, but is the level of saving sufficient to make that change worthwhile. This added intelligence will help us focus our efforts on areas where we can have the most impact.

It seems to me that the Framework is triggering debate and providing a platform from which to help inform future strategies for joint working and encourage more standard provision across partnership areas which is great – even if in some areas change may take a few years to come about. I was really pleased to see the collection of the six Framework core materials and food waste set out as a minimum service standard in the Mayor of London’s Draft Environment Strategy. My colleagues are now supporting a further 53 authorities across 18 business case projects through the Consistency Fund.

And, with many more contracts up for re-tendering in the next few years, I do hope more authorities will take the opportunity to challenge what they are doing and take a fresh look at the options available. One thing we are working on with CIWM that I know will help is an updated and accessible set of procurement documents for collection service contracts.

Other initiatives where I’m pleased to report progress is the recently published guide on the collection of (food and beverage) cartons – this provides advice on the best way to handle and market this material for effective recycling and addresses, in one place, the many questions we and ACE UK receive on the recycling of cartons. You can find it at www.wrap.org.uk/cartonsrecycling.

Another commitment was to consult on the feasibility of a common container/bin colour scheme. The consultation is now closed and we are delighted, if not slightly overwhelmed, to have received over 300 responses! We’re planning on sharing the findings in January.

And not forgetting the rest of the recycling supply chain and what’s coming onto the market; our packaging working group made up of retailers, brands, MRFs, PRFs and reprocessors have drawn up a list of key issues to tackle to make plastic packaging more recyclable, including black and PVC films. With so many parts of the supply chain it is great to have this consensus. We’re now looking into the best way to take this forward.

If you’re looking for more clarity on what delivering consistent recycling means for you, the benefits it can bring and the actions needed, take a look at our new animation. We were challenged to explain consistency in three-minutes – I think this video does it, I hope you do to!

As we said at the outset achieving greater consistency in England’s recycling is not going to happen overnight, but it can happen. It requires the right drivers and support to be in place and for all stakeholders to see and have a share of the benefits. Alongside our work at the local level we have been providing evidence and analysis to Defra on how we could achieve higher recycling nationally and the measures and drivers than can help. By continuing to work together we can make recycling easier for people and, in turn, collect more and increase the quality of what we collect to keep our recycling industry thriving.

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