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Happy birthday WRAP!

WRAP is 10 years old. Few who gathered for the launch at Sadler’s Wells theatre in London on 15 November 2000 expected the new organisation to last so long. Early recruits were told to expect no more than a three-year job. So why has the idea succeeded and why is the organisation working so hard on a new four-year business plan?

There are three key elements: recognising a gap in the market, a track record of delivery and an ability to adapt. Back in 2000, the UK faced an enormous change as it started the switch from landfill to recycling. There was little practical experience of collecting materials, limited capacity to reprocess and uncertain markets for the resulting materials.

The civil servants involved were too few in number, did not have relevant technical backgrounds, were prone to moving on to pastures new and were required to give priority to the short-term pressures of the political process. A new organisation with enough professionals, focused on delivery, willing to make novel interventions and able to stick to the task was the chosen alternative. And it seems to have worked.

WRAP recently conducted an internal exercise to tot up what had been achieved, with the help of its many partners, to date. The numbers are impressively large, and run to millions of verified tonnes of resources diverted from landfill and carbon emissions avoided.

But it is not simply the figures that count. WRAP’s consultations about its new business plan show that it is valued for the detailed independent research it has produced, and shared freely, as well as its ability to bring together groups and individuals to define and solve problems through responsibility deals such as the Courtauld Commitment. It has also received praise for the quality of its work in changing behaviours, by engaging the public and businesses, helping them to do the right thing without hectoring.

Over the years, WRAP has adapted to new demands. Its initial focus on promoting recycled content and finding markets for recycled materials soon expanded to include developing the skills to collect them effectively and the first steps towards waste minimisation and prevention. Activities have ranged from the well supported ‘Halving Waste to Landfill’ programme in the construction industry, through the still developing ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign, to our partnerships in England and Scotland which saw WRAP sell more than two million home compost bins to households. That campaign showed another aspect of its adaptability: a willingness to recognise when its interventions have achieved their purpose and make an orderly exit.

WRAP has also adapted to the growing effects of devolution as the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have evolved their own strategies and policies. It has learnt how to offer programmes that are attuned to their national priorities without losing the benefits of concerted action.

What of the next four years? WRAP is using its experience and working with its numerous partners to prepare a new business plan for the double challenge of a remit to look not just at waste but at resource efficiency more broadly, and to do so with what is bound to be a significantly reduced budget.

This will be the last of my features before I step down from WRAP in March. I will do so with mixed feelings. While I am proud of what the organisation has achieved so far, I can see that much of the low- hanging fruit has been picked and the challenges can only get tougher from here.

WRAP had an encouraging birthday greeting from recycling minister Lord Henley, in which he acknowledged the extent of the challenge but expressed confidence that the experience of the first 10 years would stand it in good stead for continued success. And I agree with that.
Phillip Ward is director for local government services at WRAP

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