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Time to start making inroads into zero waste

Nicola Peake on councils aiming at zero waste

As the Government plans a zero-waste society via its waste review and the UK comes under pressure to meet CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme targets, householders are increasingly required to recycle more and throw away less. But what’s the best way to reach zero waste?

First, we need to get people to reduce the amount of waste they produce (Defra recently reported that 15% of all food and drink purchases were wasted in 2008) and reuse more materials.Reducing waste arisings is a key aim of the waste review as it seeks to cut product packaging and encourage people to throw less away. A reduction in waste production is a crucial component to reaching a zero waste society; recycling alone will not achieve this.

But boosting recycling is essential. The development of kerbside collection schemes has meant more packaging and waste materials can be captured. Convenience is vital when encouraging residents to recycle, and collecting recyclables at the kerbside makes it easier. With the continued development of UK-based facilities, more materials can be recycled in the UK, with distinct carbon benefits as a result.

One of the key elements being considered during the waste review is how to improve frequency and quality of collections, including reducing the number of wheelie bins and encouraging councils to run weekly collections instead of fortnightly. Our experience shows that weekly collections of recyclables can target more than 85% of household waste when undertaken with fortnightly residual waste collections.

If councils are to provide a more frequent, effective and economic service, they need to work with waste management partners on all options for capturing household recyclable materials and items for reuse.

Residents will increasingly have to recycle residual waste elements which are often not collected, such as batteries, clothing, white goods, garden waste, oils and fats and building/wood materials. This means combining kerbside collection with other recycling services, notably household waste recycling centres (HWRCs). In many areas HWRCs are an untapped resource; a well-run urban HWRC can recycle more than 50% of materials received, with some rural sites able to achieve recycling rates of up to 80%.

But the million-dollar question remains how to maximise recycling participation. The industry needs to engage with people and communicate the benefits that kerbside schemes and HWRCs offer, and inform customers about the range of materials they can recycle. Most people choose to recycle given the opportunity and the information to do so.

The waste review also advocates using incentives to encourage recycling. But financial incentives are rarely necessary or cost effective. While councils should be free to consider paid incentive schemes within waste reviews, well-developed and well- communicated kerbside recycling schemes with good quality HWRCs boost recycling rates anyway.

While calling for a zero-waste policy may seem radical, particularly given that only around 38% of the UK waste stream is currently recycled, in reality local authorities have little choice but to aim for it.

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