This month is a time to think in terms of the bigger picture. The new coalition Government is facing a huge, multi-faceted challenge to reduce public debt and keep the UK economy working while aligning key differences in policy approach. Its direction is going to set the tone for what comes next. While the much-discussed areas of debt reduction and electoral reform have been grabbing the headlines, it is important that transport and infrastructure development do not get sidelined, causing the waste management and recycling sectors to stall.
Before the formation of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, both parties emphasised the importance of high-speed rail links as a means of improving transport, albeit primarily for passengers. But the Lib Dems made their rail aspirations clear, stating that they would seek to move freight from roads to rail. Following Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s 2009 London Plan, which includes the objective to “improve the sustainable movement of freight within and around London, making more use of both water and rail”, the high-level intention to increasingly use alternative methods to road freight is clear.
“The financial advantages of moving just a small element of waste to rail or water is critical for councils to consider because they are now under pressure to make savings without reducing performance”
When considered as objectives, they are excellent. But without investment in infrastructure it is going to be difficult for those of us running waste and recycling logistics programmes to make any huge changes.
Moving waste via non-road methods is achievable for some but aspirational for others. To make the switch to rail or water requires the right infrastructure to be in place at the waste collection area, such as the transfer station, and also at the facility that treats/handles the waste. While the London Plan states that new facilities should be located in areas that enable them to consider alternatives to road freight transport, existing facilities may find their location militates against such change.
For Bywaters’ east London plants, moving waste by rail is not currently viable. We are not located close to a freight transport terminal and so would need to switch between road and rail, raising both the cost and time to transport waste. But our Thames-side location does provide us with the opportunity to develop a solution using transport by water and this is something we are pursuing.
Called the ‘Waste on Water Logistics Project’, it will involve the construction of a wharf with the capacity to handle two waste barges each carrying 18 containers, equivalent of 350 tonnes of material. Implementation of ‘Waste on Water’ will cut vehicle movements from London’s roads and cut carbon emissions by an estimated 1,700 tonnes a year.
The financial advantages of moving just a small element of waste to rail or water is critical for councils to consider because they are now under pressure to make savings without reducing performance.
While recognising that every logistics programme is individual, a Scottish study shows that moving just a small proportion of waste to either rail or water can cut costs. Basing its costs on a variety of scenarios between 2002 and 2020, the study found that when all waste was transported by road, the cost of moving each tonne per mile was 5.6p. Shifting some of the transport to rail (7.7 million tonnes, 2.3% of total waste) reduced this cost to 5.3p per mile, equating to a saving of £4.7m. While in this case only 0.06% of waste could realistically be transferred to canal or coastal shipping, this small change reduced the average cost for transport per mile for this proportion of the waste to 3.2p per tonne, representing a saving of £1m.
From these figures it is clear that considering alternatives will not only afford environmental benefits but, in the right circumstances, will also bring financial gains. Those who are managing waste programmes, both at a commercial, planning and infrastructure development level, should be looking at instigating and funding alternatives to road freight transport. It will be interesting to see if this kind of forward thinking is taken up by our new Government.
John Glover is managing director at Bywaters