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Crunch time on climate

There is weather and then there is climate. The snow and ice we had before and after Christmas was just weather. But if you add to that the floods like those in West Cumbria in 2009, and other extreme weather events such as the impact of freezing weather on the water supply in Northern Ireland, it does not take long to start thinking about the implications of climate change.

The scientists are clear that, as the climate changes, we will see more extreme weather events. So now might be a good time to consider what this might mean for the waste industry. This is what WRAP, at Defra’s request, will be doing at an expert workshop on 1 February to be held in London.

We all saw adverse press reaction to the impact of the weather on waste collections, yet it was encouraging to see supportive comments from some members of the public praising their bin men for keeping services going. The question is: would they remain supportive if the same things happened repeatedly without any adaptation to services?

The fact that so many councils managed to keep services going in some form suggests that there is a lot of good practice available to share. But is there a case for sharing other things too, such as specialist vehicles or vehicles adapted for severe winter conditions?

Simply sharing locally may not be enough if all councils in an area are affected by the same conditions. But sharing on a regional or national basis will take some organising. National waste companies can win here by drawing on resources from across the UK. And what are the health and safety issues? Some services were halted on these grounds while others carried on; is there learning to share around that?

“How would we cope if flooding in China or Indonesia temporarily limited export markets for paper or plastic?”

One complaint made during the bad weather was the difficulty in predicting what services could be provided and keeping the public informed about what was going on. The Waste Collection Commitment, a partnership between WRAP and the Local Government Association, calls for every effort to be made to tell people about changes in collection arrangements, even temporary ones.

More than 100 councils have signed the Commitment and at least that number did a good job of providing information. But there is always room for improvement and the chance to learn from others. Of course it is not just a matter of maintaining normal collection rounds. The water supply problems in Northern Ireland, for example, did not directly affect waste collections. But because part of the response to the crisis was to supply millions of bottles of water to residents, the nature of the waste stream changed for a while. Special arrangements to gather in the plastic bottles were needed.

Floods create mountains of waste: cars, furniture, electrical goods, textiles and hazardous wastes. The first real problem in such circumstances is a shortage of skips. Next is the question of what to do with the damaged materials. Is there an alternative to disposal and, if so, how do we make that work?

Getting rid of damaged possessions is one challenge, but how can the victims be helped to rebuild their lives when the water recedes? In Cumbria, the voluntary sector re-use organisations were able to step into the breach. Impact Furniture Services delivered furniture, clothing and blankets to those in relief centres in Cockermouth, Keswick and Workington. Furniture Matters, another local furniture re-use organisation, donated carpeting and furniture, while the motor company Ford donated the use of two Transit vans. Many other local traders helped out, including Comet with relief electrical goods.

Of course, the extreme weather which affects us also occurs around the globe. How would we cope if flooding in China or Indonesia temporarily limited export markets for paper or plastic?

There is also concern about the effect of long-term summer droughts, which are predicted as a consequence of climate change, which can significantly affect the amount of garden waste that is generated. This has implications for councils that collect food and garden waste combined, as well as for the in-vessel composting reprocessors, which will lose feedstock and income. Preserving that infrastructure may be something to be thought about and planned for.

I am sorry to start the year looking at doom scenarios. But despite the UK’s well-earned reputation for brilliance at coping in a crisis, common sense suggests that spending some time thinking about climate impacts now and how to respond to them will improve the chances of maintaining services when the chips are down.

In Queensland, Australia, it had not rained for so long that, in some places, developers had started building houses directly on the ground instead of on stilts in the traditional fashion. Now there are reports of residents sitting on their roofs watching sharks swim down the street. Life is unpredictable, but there is nothing like being prepared.
Phillip Ward is director of local government services at WRAP


In 1910, the UK supported an estimated one million beehives; 100 years later that number has fallen to just 250,000. The worrying decline in bee numbers was reported widely in last year’s press, with the Daily Telegraph leading a campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the humble bumble bee. Help may be at hand, however, and from a rather unlikely source.

The growing trend to install green roofs on buildings across the UK has seen an unlikely new environment develop atop our city skylines which offers a potential second home for bees. A study published on the website, an organisation that promotes green roofs in the UK, found that “green roofs, brown roofs and living roofs that are planted with a wide selection of wild flowers and sedums can provide an important forage habitat for bees in the urban environment.”

One would not immediately think it, but green roofs offer a rich biodiversity, perfect for foraging bees and other insects. Their design usually involves the use of mosses, which provide a source of drinking water, and therefore help to support bees through the important spring and summer months.

A little known fact about green roofs is that compost produced from recycled green/food waste can greatly aid the longevity of the wild flowers and therefore the wildlife supported by such green building applications. WRAP has produced a guide entitled Quality Compost Use In Green Roof Construction, which outlines how this recycled organic material can provide a reliable source of nutrients and minerals to prolong plant life. Trials have demonstrated that PAS 100 compost can contribute towards the long-term health, stability and attractiveness of green roofs.

Beehives on green roofs are quite common in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and the UK offers a similar climate for the 54 species of bees presently living in the UK. Green roofs are becoming more common, with councils in London and Sheffield taking steps to mandate their inclusion in planning regulations in the construction of public buildings.

In the London Plan’s Living Roofs and Wall Policy (4a.11), for example, green roofs are encouraged in all new developments. In Sheffield, from 2011 all developers will need to include 80% vegetative cover on new buildings over 1,000sq m (non-residential) and in developments with more than 10 dwellings (residential). Manchester and Brighton & Hove are also likely to follow suit, while the Scottish Green Roof Forum has been set up to develop green roof policy guidance across Scotland.

Will it be long before we see more beehives on our own civic buildings?

  • To download the WRAP Quality Compost use in green roof construction, leaflet visit:

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