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Positive signs on how community waste collections might work

As revealed by MRW, the Localism Bill’s community Right to Challenge could allow charities and community groups to bid for waste collection operations at local authority level. But how might such operations work in practise and would they be welcome?

National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO) chairman John Woodruff believes that community waste collections are possible.

He said: “We have specifications on the quality of service we expect, and that would be required whether it was a social enterprise, a charity or a waste management company.

“You still have the authority in the commissioning or monitoring role. But rather than [using] the big waste companies, you could have organisations or enterprises doing elements of the service”

“If you are in the middle of a contract, it is difficult because you have got to abide by the contractual arrangements. But when you re-let it, you could do it as packages. We could have one [organisation] doing the refuse collection, a different one doing the recycling collection, a third operating household waste recycling centres and perhaps a different group doing recycling collections from flats.”

Woodruff explained that this system of ‘packages’ would allow communities to play their part, while maintaining the necessary local authority oversight.

He said: “You still have the authority in the commissioning or monitoring role. But rather than [using] the big waste companies, you could have organisations or enterprises doing elements [or packges] of the service.”

Although technically and contractually feasible, Woodruff believes that it will take time before the model is widely adopted.

“I think it needs people to give bits of it a go,” he said. “Perhaps understandably, no-one will rush to do it until they know it works. The natural tendency in waste is conservatism, so maybe what we need is some of these packaged contracts.

“I think now is probably the wrong time to think about it because we are busy working out what we’re doing with our budgets. But give it six months, and I think the first contract that comes up will be interesting.”

One of the biggest questions surrounding the community ownership of waste collections is how the relationship with the large waste management companies might work.

Veolia Environmental Services is already working successfully with the South Shropshire Furniture Scheme (SSFS) to deliver bulky household waste collections and a growing portfolio of community waste operations through a subcontracting arrangement.

SSFS chief executive and Shropshire Community Recycling Network (SCRN) director Jean Jarvis (pictured) told MRW: “The 25-year waste contract came up for tender, and we were involved as a community group. We were part of the tender specification document – there was a paragraph that said whoever got the contract would have to work with the community.”

“We collect bulky household waste from across Shropshire, which is a massive county. We work in partnership with another social enterprise called Shropshire Housing Alliance.

“It was quite radical – Veolia was a bit suspicious about working with a social enterprise. We had no track record for delivering this kind of contract, although we had delivered other deals.”

But the relationship has proven so successful that SSFS is now looking to take on more responsibility across the county.

Jarvis said: “We’ve extended the contract so we deliver bins and boxes to people. So when residents are new to the area, they need recycling bins and all the boxes, so we would go and deliver those and we charge for that.

“Veolia has sponsored a van, which has been great. It likes the publicity it gets, and that has worked really well. At the moment, we are looking at going into business waste collection and possibly taking over a community asset within Ludlow to provide a community collection service.”

Although community Right to Challenge powers are still at an early stage, it seems that community ownership, or part- ownership, of waste collection operations will be a growing possibility in years to come.

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