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The mother of all waste challenges

Bywaters parliament

Recent figures show that Parliament is recycling almost two-thirds of its waste. During a Q&A with officials Martin Wittekind and Abi Green, Andrea Lockerbie finds out how this is being done

A new waste contract with Bywaters commenced at the Parliamentary Estate in November 2016. Has this involved a new approach to recycling?

An important aspect of Parliament’s new waste contract is that the service includes a continu­ous improvement approach to waste recycling.

This means that the provider should inform Parliament in advance of any emerging best practice and then work closely with the environment team to incorporate these improvements into service delivery – thereby improving our ability to respond quickly to new opportunities to recover and recycle more of our waste. The provider will also focus on auditing Parliament’s waste streams and iden­tify opportunities for more waste segregation.

The current recycling system is a mixed scheme which was introduced across Parlia­ment in January 2012. Covering paper and card, plastics and cans, it has increased our recycling rate by 10%. In addition, the estate also recycles waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and metals (including those from obsolete fittings), while food waste from catering venues is disposed of by anaero­bic digestion.

How does this differ from the system previously in place, and why has this particular approach to recycling been taken?

Earlier systems meant that waste was, where feasible, segregated on the Parliamentary Estate, but the new scheme involves segregation off-site at a local MRF.

This is advantageous for two reasons: first, storage space is limited; second, and most importantly, the MRF allows for more efficient waste separation and therefore supports Par­liament to achieve greater levels of recycling performance.

What are the challenges involved with waste and recycling collection across the estate?

The most significant challenge is arguably the size and heritage of the estate, coupled with the various and complex work carried out at Parlia­ment. The estate comprises 17 buildings, many of them listed, including the Palace of West­minster, which is part of a World Heritage Site.

The range of work carried out goes beyond what is seen on TV including the long-term preservation and development of our build­ings; public engagement activities; and the provision of office, catering, maintenance, digital and security services. Work is carried out by staff of both Houses, MPs, peers (and their staff), contractors and members of the public.

What impact has the new system had on waste/recycling rates?

The scheme has had a positive impact following its introduction five years ago. At the end of the 2016-17 financial year, the recycling rate was 63.9%, a 10% improvement on performance at the end of 2011-12.

How has the recycling system been communicated to those using it?

The mixed scheme was developed through con­sultation primarily with the staff of both Houses, as well as our environmental service providers. Alongside tailored pilots in certain buildings, promotion and ‘awareness raising’ has been achieved through communication channels including internal circulars, Parlia­ment’s intranet and face-to-face engagement with the environment team.

In addition, the environment team works closely with colleagues in Parliament’s estates team, including waste management on signifi­cant building projects. The environment team will continue to be an important stakeholder in the programme to refurbish and develop the buildings within the northern part of the estate.

Are there issues with contamination of recycling and how are these dealt with?

Contamination has happened from time to time. The environment team has continued to work closely with our cleaning teams to identify where any mistakes are being made, and the ‘awareness raising’ elements of the mixed recy­cling scheme are ongoing in order to refresh people’s understanding.

Our provider will also be focusing on audit­ing Parliament’s waste streams. An initial audit has already been completed on our current waste collection systems, the outcome of which, including any recommendations for improve­ment, is due shortly.

Regarding the continuous improvement approach, what type of improvements are currently being considered?

Parliament is working with the new provider to assess the feasibility of recycling coffee cups. The main challenge is the plastic film which lines the paper cups, which standard recycling processes cannot separate. This is in response to an audit carried out by WRAP, which estimated that coffee cups make up approximately 2% of our waste stream by weight. The environment team is awaiting the result of a recent trial implemented by the new provider.

What is the vision for waste and recycling in five years’ time?

Parliament’s current targets will be reviewed in 2020-21, at which point the environment team expects that new or refreshed targets will be set. But the aim will be to minimise continually the amount of waste that the estate generates, as well as to maximise recycling practices.

Parliament is embarking on the refurbish­ment and development of the buildings within the northern part of the estate, as well as pre­paring for major renovation of the Palace of Westminster. It is anticipated that these pro­grammes of work will not only transform our buildings and infrastructure, but also how the Parliamentary Estate is used – which will have associated impacts on its waste and recycling in five years’ time and beyond.

Martin Wittekind is business and compliance manager, in-house services, and Abi Green is environmental coordinator, in-house services, both at the House of Commons

PARLIAMENT’S RECYCLING BY NUMBERS

Targets

By 2020-21 (against baselines from the 2008-09 financial year) to:

  • Reduce the weight of waste generated by 30%
  • Recycle 75% of waste generated (by weight)

Parliament has a zero waste to landfill policy

Achievements

At the end of the 2016-17 financial year, Parliament had:

  • Reduced the weight of waste generated by 16.9% (on base year)
  • Recycled 63.9% of waste generated

Challenges

As well as factors such as the huge numbers of visitors and security, intermittent events such as the recent general election (originally anticipated for 2020-21), can contribute to spikes in the amount of waste generated. 

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