Waste management is valued less than other infrastructure services, yet public support is seen as critical for much-needed investment in waste services, according to new research.
The Urban Infrastructure Insights 2015 report, commissioned by FCC Environment’s parent company FCC and researched by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) interviewed more than 400 policy makers and business executives globally.
Between 40-50% of policy makers wanted engagement in energy efficiency standards and renewable energy investments to improve their cities’ sustainability, but only 25% suggested a focus on reducing waste and improving recycling.
Just 15% said that waste treatment and recycling required attention in the immediate future, compared to 52% backing transport, metro and railway improvements.
The report also found that the public was less aware of the value of waste services.
Kristian Dales, sales and marketing director at FCC Environment, told MRW that UK consumers pay energy bills directly to the energy service providers and there is visibility over costs, whereas waste service costs for householders are hidden within the umbrella of council tax.
“When the waste management industry needs to build infrastructure, people don’t associate that infrastructure with value, they associate it with an environmental eyesore or dirty, smelly waste,” he said.
The report identified a need for strong investment in waste services over the next five years, but cities trying to develop non-energy-related sustainability initiatives faced an uphill battle in winning public support.
Nimbyism remains a major challenge for the industry. (More below)
Dales said waste management companies were building secondary and tertiary infrastructure such as waste transfer stations, MRFs or energy-from-waste (EfW) plants as the UK rapidly moves away from landfill. But new projects are often met by protests and obstacles from local resdients.
“It’s an on-going education process and you are educating on an issue that people don’t necessarily want to be educated about,” he said, adding that there can still be opposition despite positive responses to stakeholder engagement projects.
The recent MRW round table, in association with FCC Environment ‘The Future of Recycling’, found that education initiatives focused too much on recycling. Instead they needed to promote the full waste management hierarchy that takes reuse, recycling and energy provision into account.
Dales said: “That voice will gain more momentum than just trumpeting the recycling initiative. The recycling rate has plateaued as there is little more commercial viability in recycling as things stand.”
The FCC report also called for greater consistency in governmental approaches to high-cost waste infrastructure.
Dan Hoornweg, professor and research chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and former lead advisor on sustainable cities to the World Bank, said: “We need to figure out how to run cities with less garbage and less energy. It is imperative that city leaders win public support for recycling and better waste-management solutions, if they want to reduce their environmental impact and vulnerability.”
The report stated: “Cities need to engage and educate their citizens about the broader environmental benefits of investments in recycling, water management, public transportation and other infrastructure initiatives.
“Although the environmental value of these endeavours is profound, it is less readily understood by the public and their support is essential.”
Respondents were asked which cities they considered the most innovative in terms of urban infrastructure and services. London came out on top