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Efficiency is the target

Chancellor Alistair Darling’s budget confirmed the requirement for significant efficiency savings in waste and recycling services. The search for those savings is already on with a necessary focus on service efficiency, but we should not overlook the savings which can come from making existing investments in services work harder.

The more materials you can collect for recycling, the less you end up paying in landfill tax which, following the budget, will continue to rise to £80 a tonne by 2014. Improving participation, set out and capture rates can all have a big impact on residual waste costs and should not be overlooked. That means continuing well-targeted communications rather than looking at those as an easy cut.

One way of deciding whether your systems could work harder is to use the performance benchmarks published by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to compare your performance with that of similar authorities.

WRAP’s research The Barriers to Recycling at Home, published August 2008, is still very relevant and confirms that having a user-friendly collection system is just one of the barriers to overcome. The others depend on making sure that people understand the system and are given good reasons to use it, including convincing evidence that materials collected are actually being recycled, not to mention an occasional update on progress and a ‘thank you’ for their efforts. Signing up to the joint WRAP/Local Government Association Waste Collection Commitment, as 61 authorities have now done, provides a good structure to address these issues.

There is a lot of interest in whether well-designed incentives or rewards can nudge additional recyclers to start recycling or all of us to make the effort to recycle more

There is a lot of interest in whether well-designed incentives or rewards can nudge additional recyclers to start recycling or all of us to make the effort to recycle more. Associated with that is the debate about the role of web-based or social networking campaigns to spread messages and build momentum for change. We are short of hard evidence, but I confidently predict that these issues will be widely discussed during the coming months and will be the source of a lot of future innovation.

WRAP has built up a lot of communications experience through working with more than 250 authorities in the last two years. That has been built into the free support it provides which includes analysis of problems, planning effective communications, access to best practice and research evidence, free materials and designs and some funding support.

Preventing waste being presented for collection and treatment is another good way to cut costs. Home composting has been shown by WRAP and the Environment Agency to prevent 150kg of waste per participating household on average. With the burgeoning interest in growing your own vegetables, the opportunity to extend home composting is still there.

There is rightly a lot of interest in extending partnership working between authorities. The opportunities for cost savings are significant. But moving to joint contracting, for example, faces some barriers in the short term. Waste prevention is a great starting point for partnerships, as many authorities have recognised, because the same communications can be applied over much wider areas in the way that recycling communications generally cannot.

Apart from well-established campaigns such as ‘Love Food Hate Waste’, there are great opportunities to divert items including furniture, household appliances, clothing and other textiles into reuse by helping local residents to understand the benefits and the full range of local opportunities. WRAP’s Waste Prevention Toolkit helps local authorities to develop tailored plans relevant to the needs of their local areas. WRAP is currently extending the content of the toolkit to provide consumer messages which are likely to be most effective in changing behaviours.

Across local government there is increasing interest in engaging local communities in shaping and delivering local services. Some of the learning from the Zero Waste Places programme shows how this can be more powerful than traditional communications in changing behaviour. The incorporation of that programme with the other work of the Local Authority BREW Centre in WRAP’s wider remit will extend the support we can offer to include training and outreach support.

Phillip Ward is WRAP director for local government services

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