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Soon everyone will want a slice of recycling revenues

Nicola Peake

Nicola Peake gives her views on Tesco’s move to control recycling banks located in its car parks.

Tesco’s recent decision to replace council recycling banks in its car parks with bottle banks and recycling facilities from its own subcon-tractor has attracted considerable comment.

Media stories reported that some of those facilities had generated up to £50,000 a year in revenues. While those councils directly affected by the move have cried ‘foul’, others across the UK are looking nervously at their own facilities and asking ‘could we be next?’

In reality, many firms already use recycling subcontractors to help them capture and process recyclable waste that is generated from their own operations. For a supermarket, factory or other business to recycle the waste it produces, and to benefit from the revenues generated from repro-cessing this material, is standard practice.

What sets the Tesco scheme apart from others is that the retailer’s recycling banks, provided by its own contractors, are there to capture household waste. This is waste that would usually be collected for reprocessing by councils and the resulting revenues used by them to fund municipal waste schemes and other programmes.

In an age of local authority spending cuts coupled with increasing demand for services, it is understandable that councils are alarmed by the Tesco announcement. They pay for the waste collection and thus benefit from the revenues generated through reprocessing.

“The local authority role in the waste chain needs to be formalised”

So how can councils adapt to meet the new reality in which waste is now such a powerful revenue generator that even the UK’s largest supermarket chain is looking to get a piece of the action? Should councils now be incentivised differently to collect recycling, and should household waste collection and recycling be ringfenced to safeguard these material revenues for local authorities?

You could argue the prime reason that councils can gain such strong revenues from recycling is because of the work they do to get people to segregate and recycle their rubbish and to promote behaviour change.

The fact that people choose to use recycling banks is largely down to the educational programmes and refuse collection schemes that have been provided by councils. So if private sector organis-ations are now able to capture household waste, would councils be forgiven for asking whether they should be empowered to charge them for part of the council tax revenues that they have spent in promoting waste segregation and recycling?

Business would consider this contentious. But rather than competing with councils for revenues, should business organisations not be working together to help councils boost recycling and make it more accessible?

While Tesco cannot be blamed for wanting to take advantage of the revenues now being generated through recycling facilities in its car parks, and has stated that the revenues gained will be used to fund community projects, the reality is that many councils will want to retain control over the collection, disposal and revenues from household recycling schemes.

What this has demonstrated is that the council’s role in the waste chain needs to be formalised or more private sector groups are likely to follow Tesco’s lead.

Nicola Peake is managing director of May Gurney Environmental Services

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