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Feature: Back to the drawing board

As head of waste management at Harborough District Council, Ian Halson was instrumental in developing a recycling structure.

From a starting point of one bottle bank in the entire district, he implemented kerbside collections, culminating in a borough-wide recycling scheme following a £1.3 million Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) grant.

As a result, Halson claims that recycling figures were raised from 6% to just over 50% in a 15-month period.

When Halson took on the role in the early 1990s, he was no stranger to Harborough District Council - he had worked there for 14 years as a production engineer. But his post was being made redundant and a vacancy in waste management caught his eye.

Although he had no previous experience, he believed that his managerial experience and personnel skills were transferable, so he embarked on a complete career change; as head of waste management, he was also responsible for street cleaning and refuse collections.

With recycling still very much in its infancy, Halson was faced with a unique opportunity to develop a recycling service from scratch.

First, he introduced banks for glass, cans, paper and textiles at 42 sites throughout the district. Kerbside recycling was next, but had to be implemented when budgets dictated or when they became viable by self-funding. The programme was initiated in Market Harborough and Lutterworth with a paper collection.

According to Halson, recycling has provided an overall psychological and cultural change to this country. "During the past decade, there have been gross changes in recycling efforts," he says. "Back then it was novel and the amounts we started off with were insignificant compared with now."

By the mid to late 1990s, recycling boxes were introduced, which pushed the rate to around 4.5%. But it was clear that these figures would not achieve the targets the Government was beginning to impose, and it became apparent that the time for district-wide bulk kerbside collections had arrived.

Government funding was also being made available on a national basis, and it was while looking at ways to further improve the recycling rates that Halson discovered Defra had a total of £140m in the National Waste, Minimisation and Recycling Fund available to local authorities over a two-year period.

By his own admission, Halson put in an audacious bid of £1.3m and was delighted when it was successful. It was immediately earmarked to fund a completely new weekly refuse and collection scheme. Within 15 months a full-blown system had been implemented borough-wide, which was an alternate-week collection of green waste and recyclable materials followed by domestic household waste.

Following the implementation of the scheme, recycling rose from 6% to just over 50% - a shift from landfill of 10,000 tonnes of green waste and 6,000 tonnes of dry recyclable waste (figures based on a rolling average from April 2004-February 2005).

"Even from initial efforts, it became clear that they were not going to be enough in order to divert sufficient amounts from landfill, and so the emphasis gradually changed to kerbside collections," he says. "It was an evolution rather than revolution, and the evolution was stimulated through government legislation comple- mented by the growth of the whole concept.

"As I came from the manufacturing sector, it was all very new to me and I had to think on my feet. I was a small cog within the whole waste management system, but I would like

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