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‘I’ve enjoyed selling two million compost bins’

By the time you read this, director of local government services Phillip Ward will have had his leaving party at WRAP and will be having a short rest before deciding what to do next. Before he left, I caught up with him to look back at the past seven years, and to find out what he thinks WRAP will be like in the coming years.

After a career in the civil service working for ministers including Michael Heseltine and Chris Patten, Ward joined WRAP in 2004. What does he think it has achieved during his time there?

“So much has changed over that time,” he says. “We’ve moved from having 14% recycling to 40% recycling. We moved from a situation where very few people actually recycled - although everyone claimed they did - to a position where three out of every four people now classify themselves as committed recyclers. We’ve had a national [advertising] campaign, and a whole new way of talking about things and presenting issues.

“We are going to address this whole debate about how do we get recycling normalised so that it is something you do wherever you are”

“We’ve opened up enormous new capacity for recycling materials such as paper and organics. We’ve started a whole new move towards anaerobic digestion (AD) and we’ve engaged some of the biggest retailers in the land focusing in on starting the whole process of waste minimisation.

“It has been a really fascinating period, and so much has changed and so much has been positive. I’m really going to miss it, but we’ve done exactly what I hoped would happen since WRAP was set up.”

Ward is particularly proud of the work done by WRAP to help food waste recycling and demonstrating how much food waste was being created and why, and what can be done about it. In addition, he says the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign was especially effective in helping to boost food waste collections.

“We’ve used this to drive the debate about AD,” he adds. “[We’ve looked at] the best way to treat food and how to collect it in a way that is convenient for people. I think that has been a really exciting period of work. It has really opened up something that 10 years ago people thought wasn’t possible.

“At the other end of the scale, I’ve really enjoyed selling two million compost bins. Never in my life did I think that I would get involved in the retail trade. But to have successfully got two million more people out there doing home composting - I take a lot of satisfaction out of that.”

Despite leaving WRAP now, Ward is aware that the organisation will need to develop during the next seven years.

“It is one of our characteristics that we always have an exit strategy,” he says. “When we take on an activity, it is part of the design [to look at] how do we stop doing this when we have done as much as we can. WRAP will always be moving in and then moving on as things become mature and the market picks up and doesn’t need our intervention. Where we are going next - which I think is very challenging, but very important - is this whole question of how do we make things differently, how do we encourage people to renew things, minimise waste, to look for second-hand value and so on.”

Ward points to the recently launched iPad 2: “One of the top-line selling points is that it is 15% lighter and uses 15% less material. It is very much about de-materialising stuff and finding new ways of doing things with new business models.

“WRAP will always be moving in and then moving on as things become mature and the market picks up”

“This is all really challenging stuff and is nothing at all like what we did when we started, which was things such as large-scale capital investment in paper reprocessors. But it is that same ability to bring together that group of people to talk about things and define a problem and identify solutions. WRAP will be moving up the waste hierarchy, which I guess is the key message.”

He will not be replaced once he leaves, so the structure of WRAP’s directors will change slightly.

“The area that I have been working on latterly, which is supporting local authorities, is going to be maintained but broadened. We are going to address this whole debate about how do we get recycling normalised so that it is something you do wherever you are - whether you are at work, at home, at a festival - so that everywhere you go, recycling is something you do naturally.

“It is all going to be part of what we are calling the ‘closed loop economy’, which is the idea that we can make sure that people always put things back into use and there are facilities available to collect it, sort it and reprocess it.”

This will be led by Marcus Gover, with Linda Crichton continuing to lead the team that looks after local authority collections. The work on waste prevention and moving up the waste hierarchy will be led by Richard Swannell, while Steve Creed will be “doing what he does best, which is creating new financial instruments and new ways of supporting different activities using creative financial ideas”, according to Ward.

With the whole commingled versus source-separated debate rearing up again, it seemed like an opportunity to find out where Ward stands because he has been responsible for commissioning WRAP research on this. “I’ve always taken the view that the answer to this question depends very much on what you are trying to achieve. The view I’ve always taken, looking at the long term and a resource efficiency point of view, is that quality is the starting point.”

Currently, he explains, the quality of recycled material is more reliable using a kerbside sort system. Much of WRAP’s work for the Welsh Assembly Government backs that view.

“Now that is not to say it is not possible to start somewhere else,” he adds. “If, for example, you want to start with the presumption that simplicity for your local residents is the key driver, then you might come to a different conclusion. I have to say that when local authorities are addressing this question, they should be clear about what they are trying to achieve, and look objectively at the evidence and compare all of the available options fully before reaching a decision.

“There have been too many cases we have come across, where local authorities have gone into a procurement with a pre-determined view of what the right answer is. Very often they have ended up with something they did not really want and does not do what they need.”

PHILLIP WARD CV

After studying a degree in law, Ward moved into the civil service, where he eventually held several senior roles. He helped to set up the Carbon Trust and WRAP while working as a civil servant, before moving to WRAP in 2004.

The best thing to happen in my career was…
“Working with Michael Heseltine. He is a man of enormous vision and almost every day he came into the office, he would say, ‘I have got an idea’. He helped to set up the Environment Agency, he re-routed the Channel Tunnel rail link to St Pancras. He was very strategic in his thinking and made things happen.”
The worst thing to happen in my career was…
“I spent two years working on private housing policy. The intention was to look at how to speed up the house-buying process, but it was two years of complete pointlessness as there was nothing stopping the market from going faster.”

 

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