Imagine if we were starting afresh in our approach to garden waste collections.
Would we conclude that we needed organic matter to be put in plastic bins, to be collected by diesel-chugging lorries, which would then deliver their load to a recycling centre that would expel energy to process it, re-bag it and sell much of it back to the households it came from?
If we went for that approach, the pay-off must surely be pretty amazing – we must be collecting gold dust. But this is a fool’s gold which typically yields only 50% of its original weight in recyclable matter, the rest being water.
And if recent figures published by the BBC are correct, councils are charging almost £74m a year to collect this stuff. Let’s be honest: we have overcomplicated a simple and natural process and it is time we looked at new ways to do things.
Collection of green waste by councils is relatively new. Many households would previously have composted their garden trimmings, creating a simple, small, circular economy. But with the 1999 Landfill Directive and subsequent Waste Implementation Programme, the pressure was created to divert biodegradables from landfill.
It led to councils being legislated to chase heavy fractions like garden trimmings, and so began the current collection of garden waste.
“Households must take control, reframing their view of their own garden trimmings as not being a problem to bin but a resource to reuse in their own environment.”
So what does the future hold? There are never easy answers when the solutions are so embedded in logistics.
As a relative veteran of the recycling sector, I believe households must take control, reframing their view of their garden trimmings as not being a problem that needs to be binned but a resource to reuse within their own environment.
With the current status quo being costly and environmentally unpalatable, not to mention the health and safety risks of the crews that work on collections, is a return to The Good Life viable? Perhaps not for all, but the principles behind it are not outlandish.
I would like to see engineering and business come together to create solutions that do not simply move the problem around,but address it at cause. The Government and forward-looking local authorities are getting behind new green tech solutions.
Our own Heru system, which converts trimmings to heat water for a home boiler, is one such initiative, and it has received backing from the Government’s Game-Changer fund and support, via field trials, with councils this summer.
Our solution is just one of what should be a plethora. But we need those innovations coming to market to start making a difference now.
Nik Spencer is Founder of the Home Energy Resources Unit