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Tackle trade waste

Watching Viridor’s Colin Drummond in Undercover Boss on Channel 4 struggling with an overloaded trade waste bin started me thinking again about trade waste and recycling. Everybody is saying we have spent too much time on household waste and that commercial waste should be our priority. Whether that is true will depend on how far the market has been getting on with addressing the problem so far.

Things are of course changing fast already, driven by the landfill tax and the Waste Framework Directive. Last month we published the results of the Local authority trade waste and recycling survey 2010 which revealed that local authority trade waste recycling collections for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have almost doubled in the last three years.

Some 43% of local authorities now offer a trade recycling service, compared to 23% in 2007, reflecting increased demand from businesses to dispose of their waste responsibly, boost their green credentials and hopefully reduce disposal costs. In addition, 57% of authorities said that they provide some kind of resource efficiency/waste reduction advice to businesses, a 6% increase from 2009. But a significant proportion of local authorities say they have no trade waste service at all let alone a recycling service which reinforces the critical role of private waste companies.

Because of the demands of the Waste Framework Directive there is pressure to take this increase in trade recycling collections further and faster. Hard evidence is short in this area. The presumption has always been that larger companies have been able to get the recycling services they need. But at the moment, we don’t know how easy it is for SMEs to access recycling services if they want them, or how quickly the market is likely to respond to demand. Nor do we know if they will both need a nudge in the right direction.

With this in mind, WRAP is going to conduct some research to look at how far and how quickly the need for increased recycling services is going to be met naturally in the market and whether there are any market failures which might slow the process down. If there are barriers to progress we can then consider whether there are any sensible and practical interventions which could help develop services and service coverage. 2010. In keeping with the times those interventions will need to be very innovative too – meshing public and private sectors to get the best outcome at the lowest cost.

We will take into this work WRAP’s earlier experience with our Recycle at Work Programme and the accumulated learning from the dozens of trials supported by the Local Authority BREW Centre which joined WRAP this year. The starting point will be what is currently available for SMEs, and what is likely to become available in the near future in response to landfill tax. We will also look at the likely growth of demand as more SMEs want to recycle, to cut costs or demonstrate robust environmental management systems to potential customers. Equally we need to understand what is stopping them: is it lack of space; the cost structure of the services or just lack of time?

There is a lot of innovation and good practice already out there, as the entries for the National Recycling Awards organised by MRW and other industry award schemes show and we will be sure to look at all that too.

We know from on-line discussions, like that in the MRW Group on the Linked In web site, that there are many views on these issues. We would love to hear your views on this as input to our work. Just email lgs@wrap.org.uk. We expect the findings of the research to be ready early in 2011 and will report back then.

Phillip Ward is director for local government services at WRAP

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