Communities minister Eric Pickles’ recent announcement of a £250m funding boost for councils to reinstate weekly waste collections has been greeted with a cold reception by most of our industry - and rightly so.
In recent years we have seen a sea change in attitudes towards household recycling - a steady increase in rates across England is evidence of this - and most householders would now put items in the recycling bin before lumping all waste together. Reverting back to a weekly general collection service is not only a waste of precious funding, but it also gives householders the green light to go back to using the general waste bin as their first port of call.
The money the Government is pledging to reinstate the weekly bin collection could be put to much better use, primarily in tackling household apathy towards food waste.
It is widely believed that food is now our biggest challenge in the road to zero waste to landfill. So, if we are really committed to making a significant difference in recycling rates, then surely putting money towards educating and providing infrastructure to support householders with food waste is the way forward.
“Food waste recycling must be easy and accessible, with minimal effect on daily lives”
We need to ensure that food waste recycling is easy and accessible, with minimal effect on householders’ daily lives. For instance, we need to provide food recycling bins which fit in with our lifestyle expectations - they need to contain waste without causing any offence, be that in appearance or by smell. We need to build this into the framework of new housing plans - for example, creating underground recycling hubs central to new developments. This would enable householders to dispose of food waste without having to ‘live’ with it, while providing an easily accessible location for collection trucks and minimising costly door-to-door services.
It is also important that these collections are made uniform across councils - currently there are differences between them on the frequency and type of collections they offer. Introducing food waste collections as a universal standard across the whole country will help to introduce them as fuss-free and easy to use, and may even pave the way to standardising other recycling options too.
There is, of course, more that needs to be done beyond installing the tools that householders need to recycle. Educating the general public from school-age is a really crucial step in changing food waste recycling habits - not just teaching how and what to recycle, but how to reduce the amount that is thrown away.
It is also important to teach people about how we can use their leftovers as a resource or anaerobic digestion (AD) technology, so that it is recognised as a valuable commodity in the same way that we have come to view waste paper, glass and plastic. AD has the potential to generate a significant proportion of the 2020 renewable energy target.
The food waste recycling sector has come a long way in recent years. But to eradicate food waste from landfill, we need to reach out to consumers and this will be no easy task. The funding that Pickles is offering is certainly welcome, but there is far more that we can do with it than encouraging the return of bad habits.
Philip Simpson is commercial director at PDM