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Responsibility Deal will help SMEs to raise their recycling game

Considering industry challenges from the Responsibility Deal

Sliced bread pales into insignificance next to the Responsibility Deal - or so recycling minister Lord Henley would have us believe as he described it as “ground breaking” at the Westminster launch a few weeks ago. But the devil is in the detail, which has yet to be thrashed out. The deal is voluntary and so will it have teeth?

The Responsibility Deal Between Government and the Waste and Resource Management Sector was developed by the Environmental Services Association (ESA) with Defra.

It has been compared to the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary code among supermarkets aimed at cutting down on their packaging. Courtauld is working. But in the fiercely competitive world of retail - where being seeing to be ‘green’ can give you that upper hand in the valuable customer perception stakes - there is real incentive to comply.

Waste management is a very different beast, and many argue that the industry has been moving in the right direction all along. So is the Deal even necessary?

Veolia executive director for business development, projects and external corporate affairs Robert Hunt argues that it is, because it will ensure everyone is signed up to certain “standards of behaviour” and moving towards the same goals. Hunt also believes that the larger waste companies will positively influence the smaller ones.

There is industry concern about low levels of awareness of environmental responsibilities - among general businesses and particularly SMEs. So it is no wonder that SMEs are a big focus within the Deal, as well as in the wider political agenda.

“SMEs are being regarded by the Government as a driver to soak up the slack on the public sector and generate more jobs,” says Hunt. “We are now reaching a point where SMEs can recycle - there is a lot of infrastructure - and they are dis-incentivised to landfill.”

The Deal wants to see improved recycling collections for SMEs, which appears to be linked to proposals outlined in the waste review suggesting that civic amenity (CA) sites may be opened up for business use. So the line between recycling household and commercial and industrial waste may begin to blur.

“We are now reaching a point where SMEs can recycle - there is a lot of infrastructure - and they are dis-incentivised to landfill”

But this could cause problems, according to Bruce Batley, managing director of First Mile Recycling. “Opening CA sites for trade waste customers will raise revenue,” he said. “But it will cause confusion with issuing waste transfer notes and it will cause confusion among customers. It will work for a builder with his own van, but I am not sure how it will help a small office or shop.”

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) is in an interesting position being an SME itself and, according to chief executive Steve Lee, it is “only too aware” of the difficulties in accessing competitive and convenient recycling services.

He warns: “Better awareness among SMEs will only translate into positive action if they are enabled in the same way as householders are through easy-to-use services.”

Closely related to the deal is the MRF Code of Practice. CIWM says the success of the Code will hinge on achieving the Deal’s commitment to improving the quality of recyclates, particularly with the bias towards commingled collections.

“Efforts to move forward in this area have long been hampered by conflicting views. These need to be resolved,” adds Lee.

Viridor chief executive Colin Drummond said the Government’s recognition of the “urgent need” for waste treatment infrastructure in the Deal was “particularly positive”.

The industry has sometimes clashed with communities on building new facilities, and improving waste’s image was another key area highlighted. This includes the proposal that all sites identified as high profile have liaison groups with residents. But if the waste industry wants the change outlined in the Deal and the associated benefits, it must rise to the task.

As Veolia’s Hunt adds: “The worry is that these are just words and nothing will come of it. The challenge is to move it forward.”

Picture: Civic amenity sites could be opened up to trade waste

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