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Recycling on the rise as councils cut their costs

The Waste Improvement Programme in Wales (WIP) provides support to local authorities on how recycling and composting services can be improved while achieving financial savings.

WIP annually reviews expenditure on waste services in detail, and offers recommendations on how financial savings and service improvements can be achieved. WIP also creates opportunities to promote and share best practice.

Recently a workshop was hosted in partnership with the Wales Audit Office. This included case studies from other councils such as Carmarthenshire County Council and Caerphilly County Borough Council, which have achieved significant savings through optimising their waste collection rounds.

WIP wants to host similar events in future to enable Welsh local authorities to achieve further efficiency savings and support them towards the Government’s target of reusing or recycling/ composting 70% of municipal waste by 2025. WIP has secured funding from the Welsh Government to deliver its business plan up to 2018.

Welsh councils on the whole are reducing the amount they spend on providing household waste services and, at the same time, recycling rates are increasing.

The WIP’s annual waste finance report for 2013-14 shows that local authorities spent £9m less on residual waste services compared with the previous year. At the same time, the amount spent on kerbside recycling services (dry recycling, food and garden waste) increased only by £7m, while recycling rates increased by two percentage points. Overall net expenditure on waste services has reduced by 2.3%: this includes dry recycling, organic and residual kerbside services, household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) and bring site provision.

Despite a further increase of £8 in landfill tax per tonne last year, adding to council costs, the overall cost of residual waste services continued to decrease, down 7.3% in the same year. Overall, 47,000 tonnes less residual waste was collected and sent for disposal, and there were also significant improvements to service provision through reducing transport and staff costs.

This was achieved through optimising collection routes and reducing dependency on agency staff. Cararthenshire council, for example, managed to reduce its frontline vehicles by six, achieving £1m in savings.

Less waste is now being sent to landfill as councils send residuals to energy-from- waste (EfW) facilities. With more facilities coming on-stream in Wales in the next few years as part of the Government strategy for a maximum of 30% of MSW to be treated in this way, it is expected that residual waste costs will reduce significantly in the coming years.

Bin outside the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire

Dry recycling and organic kerbside services realised an increase in expenditure of 6% while the mass collected increased by 1%. With recycling targets getting higher, the increase year on year is reducing. But, taking inflation into account, overall costs of waste services has maintained steady since 2008-9.

Wales has seen a number of authorities introduce restricted capacity on residual waste collected at the kerbside. Monmouthshire County Council introduced a restricted capacity of only two black sacks collected every fortnight in July 2014, and has seen a reduction in both residual waste costs (down 27%) and residual waste collected (down 43%) while the recycling and composting rate increased from 55.9% to 62.9% in 2013-14.

HWRC provision has significantly improved in recent years, contributing an average of 21% towards overall MSW recycling and composting rates in Wales. HWRCs play a significant role in managing waste sustainably. Performance of such facilities on a whole has significantly risen in recent years so that in 2013-14 average recycling and composting performance of HWRC facilities in Wales was 72%.

Reduced costs and improved performance have been achieved through more efficient and resourceful contracts between councils and HWRC contractors. Eighteen authorities contract out their HWRC networks.

Other factors influencing improved performance include enhanced range of materials accepted for recycling and pre-sorting of residual waste.   

Gwyndaf Parry is improvement officer at Waste Improvement Programme

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