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Get plugged into the European experience

Encouragement from peers is always a good way to inspire the adoption of good practice. The UK recycling sector is no different, with local authorities often being members of networks, associations and federations. Local and regional authorities receive advice and guidance on boosting their waste management strategies from European bodies as well as national ones.

The Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and Sustainable Resource Management (ACR+) is an excellent example. It is a European network of local and regional authorities that want to promote “the sustainable consumption of resources and management of waste through prevention at source, reuse and recycling”. UK members include Belfast City Council, the North London Waste Authority and Swansea Metropolitan University. There are also five Irish Republic members: local authorities for the city of Dublin, South Dublin county, Dun Laoghaire, Fingal county and Limerick.

The Brussels-based body is a member-driven think-tank operation, developing studies, bulletins, conferences and seminars. Its aim is to “allows its members to exchange practical information and experiences, to confront problems and solutions with experts in waste management of Europe and beyond”. Recent examples of its work include a guide for authorities in dealing with the Waste Framework Directive’s (WFD) requirements regarding waste quantitative targets and measuring the effect of waste prevention efforts.

“The best waste is the one we do not produce, but local and regional authorities sometimes do not know where to start”

The association is also staging an international conference in Paris this September where experts will discuss municipal waste recycling performance, looking at the demands of the WFD; implementing local and regional objectives; examining collection methods and data benchmarking; reviewing existing European statistics on recycling performance; and discussing practical methods for adopting waste management targets.

Promoting good practice is at the heart of its work. One publication on bulky waste highlighted UK initiatives such as the Furniture Re-use Network, which supports, assists and develops charitable re-use organisations across the UK. Its members’ fridge collection service was of particular interest. “Collecting over 350,000 fridges a year. Up to 15% are re-useable and are passed on to low income families,” it noted.

Another piece of UK good practice promoted in the bulky waste publication was a garden tool re-use project run by the Oxfordshire Community Action Group, The Recycling Consortium and Oxfordshire County Council.

Local authority recycling programmes can also prosper from EU funds through their involvement in such groups as ACR+. It is a partner in the new Pre-Waste three-year project, which is co-financed by the European Commission’s Interreg programme, which links local authorities across the EU.

Drawing on an Interreg budget of e302m, the programme is designed to reduce the amount of waste being generated at source. An ACR+ note, in its own style of English, says: “Six hundred kilos of waste: that is what each European produces on average every year. Even with the increase of recycling rates, it is way too much for our bin. The best waste is the one we do not produce, but local and regional authorities sometimes do not know where to start.”

Which is where Pre-Waste come in, offering examples of good practices, feasibility studies and tools for assessing what works, as well as a template for waste prevention policies. The project had its first meeting in Ancona, Italy, during April. Perhaps more high profile is the European Week for Waste Reduction, where local authorities are encouraged to explain to businesses and residents how to reduce their production of waste - the next one will be held on November 20-28.

Funded by the European Commission’s directorate general for the environment, via its Life+ programme, events are being organised in the UK by the Greater London Authority (GLA), Belfast council, Warrington Borough Council and some Government agencies. A training seminar for participant local authorities has already been held in Porto, Portugal, in June.

Another annual event that offers advice on developing recycling and waste management practice is organised by the European Sustainable Cities and Towns Campaign, which stages an annual conference. This year’s event was staged in Dunkerque, France. More than 250 councillors and mayors took part, working with business leaders, technical experts and representatives from European institutions, international organisations, research institutions and non-governmental organisations. Representatives from Birmingham, Liverpool, Basingstoke & Deane, Medway councils and the GLA attended.

Looking at the institutions of the EU itself, the key player for local authority waste management practice is the Committee of the Regions, which is the union’s official voice of municipal and regional governments. It is formally consulted on a range of policy by the European Commission, and has direct input on debates about proposed legislation within the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

Late last year, for example, the committee released a comprehensive and formal opinion on the proposed reforms to the Waste Electrical And Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive. This stressed that local and regional authorities, being responsible for implementing EU waste management policy, must “play a key role in the process of developing new approaches and proposals for the waste sector”.

Among the practical recommendations was a call for authorities to be required to hand over all WEEE and related data deposited at their collection points to established producer take-back schemes. Another said that because of the difficulty in monitoring the condition of WEEE at civic collection sites, recycling may be more appropriate for old and inefficient appliances than pushing local authorities into finding ways of re-using such waste.

The committee has also had a key role in organising the Covenant of Mayors, a European initiative designed to involve local authorities in ‘greening’ European energy use and production though the designing of local ‘sustainable energy action plans’.

Local energy and heating production are priority issues here, meaning that energy-from-waste (EfW) plants are often part of these local programmes. There are 27 UK local and regional authorities involved in the covenant initiative, including London, Manchester, Nottingham and Glasgow. Nottingham City Council is a good case study. Its sustainable energy strategy proposes that the city increases its EfW systems, generating 80GWh electricity and 220GWh heat from waste by 2021. Most of this comes from its EfW incinerator at Eastcroft, where it is considering the development of a third operating line.

A strategy paper stresses that the waste plant, with the city’s combined heat and power and district heating systems, represents “a very significant carbon saving versus natural gas and mains electricity supply”, which “will help to dramatically reduce the city’s carbon emissions.”

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