Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council in Staffordshire is taking a more commercial approach to its recycling and waste service – a route that others may follow in the future.
Recycling strategy and commissioning manager Andrew Bird explains that the council has recently gone through a review and its new service, due to start in 2016, involves it “using more of a business risk model”.
Bird adds: “Local authorities and public bodies tend not to like risk at all and will go with safe options. We are trying to buck that trend and look at it more objectively as a business. Clearly, the service element to residents is very important and we have to get that right, but in terms of offering value for money, it is a matter of running that side of the operation in a more commercial and business-like way.”
At the core of the redesign is the aim to offer a better service to residents at reduced cost. This will be done by using the value of materials as part of an income stream to allow the council to operate efficiently and cost-effectively.
Currently, Newcastle-under-Lyme council collects materials separately using a range of boxes, food caddies and bags. There is a bag each for cardboard, paper and plastic bottles, and a box for both glass and cans.
The new service will eliminate the bags, which residents do not like, and instead use a three-box system. Material will be separated at kerbside, as it is now, through the use of new kerbside sort vehicles, which will be able to cater for and collect all the materials in one pass.
Vehicles which are due for an upgrade are to be purchased right across the service, for recycling, residual and garden waste. The kerbside sort vehicles will result in significant fuel savings compared with the current arrangements, which use a number of vehicles to pick up different materials. Recyclates and food waste will be collected weekly rather than the current fortnightly arrangement, while garden waste and residual waste will be collected fortnightly.
As well as the modified schedule, the council will be bringing its collection service back in-house. Currently, its recycling service and part of its collection service, as well as transfer and bulking operations, are outsourced.
The main drivers of the redesigned service are to make the service simpler and better for residents; to create financial savings – it should achieve around £500,000 a year in savings on the current arrangements; to further increase the recycling performance; and to yield more value from the materials collected.
These benefits are expected as a result of changing the system and the council having more control over it, as well as a greater focus on quality and income. By collecting materials separately, the council can do the processing, bulking and baling ready to sell direct to reprocessors to improve income. This also ensures it maximises the tonnages of outgoing materials to reduce transport costs.
With the exception of plastics, the council currently sends most materials for reprocessing in the UK, but its new system should make it possible to keep its plastics in the UK too.
According to Bird, the council has yet to decide whether it will play the spot market with its materials or sign up to longer-term contracts of three to five years – it will decide during the course of the next year.
Newcastle-under-Lyme has a current recycling rate of 52% but is aiming to achieve 60% in the next five years, which the new system should help achieve.