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Feature: Surveying the field

Working at the sharp end of recycling in the UK, local authorities are continuing to juggle the demands of targets, finances and legislation. But what do they really think about the system they’re working in?

MRW’s third State of the Nation Report, sponsored by Grosvenor, provides a fascinating insight into the attitudes of local authorities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Illustrating the changes that have taken place in the past 12 months, the report not only shows what councils think of current policy but where they think it should be going.

The impact of legislation remains a crucial area of concern for local authorities. Following the pattern of last year’s survey, the highest percentage of respondents 91% (86% in 2005) believe that the Landfill Directive will have the biggest impact on recycling and waste management because big fines will force local authorities to reduce waste going into landfill sites.

Although the survey was carried out before the Government’s decision to delay the Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, concerns over its implementation was a strong theme. Forty-nine per cent of local authorities told MRW that the WEEE Directive will have a big impact due to the major changes/improvements needed in collection and storage methods and the high cost of compliance.

Correspondingly, fewer respondents (55%) than in the 2005 survey (62%) regard the finances already in place for recycling as entirely or fairly adequate, with 43% (37% in 2005) said that they were not very or not at all adequate.

Kerbside collection continues to dominate the way in which local authorities spend their money, taking 45% of the funds available for recycling, followed by 21% on vehicles and 13% on marketing and communications.

Overall, the amount of money local authorities need each year to meet recycling targets was estimated at £948,000, up 3.4% on last year, although the amount varied across the regions.

Typically, the average amount required is highest in the south at £1,043,000 compared with the north £815,000, the south west and Wales, £927,000 and the Midlands £750,000.

Unsurprisingly, money was a significant player in what local authorities believe to be the barriers to
improved recycling. The main barriers mentioned by more than 50% were: revenue funding (68%), householder participation (54%) and capital funding (53%).

However, markets for recyclables, national political will, local political will and planning permission were all cited as key factors.

Despite these concerns, when it comes to meeting the 2005/06 targets there is a strong feeling of con-fidence. Compared to 33% last year, 50% of local authorities said that, yes, they would definit-ely meet their target; 26% said yes, probably, and 23% said no. In keeping with this bullish attitude, 82% of authorities said that targets should go beyond 2005/06. When asked what the level should be for 2010 should be,
43% was the average.

As the Treasury considers a report from the Policy Studies Institute into how taxes and incentives could be used to promote eco-friendly lifestyles, local authority responses on the issue of household charging become increasingly pertinent. Among the institute’s ideas was to charge higher Council Tax to households throwing away too much rubbish, with those taking ene

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