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City commission outlines how to cut waste in Newcastle

A ban on single-use plastics such as bags and drinking straws are among recommendations in a report from the Newcastle Waste Commission on ways to dramatically cut waste in the city.

The report No Time to Waste has been published almost a year after the creation of the commission, made up of seven waste experts, which has been hearing evidence from various organisations.

The report suggests a voluntary ban on single-use plastics across Newcastle, as well as a voluntary ban on drinking straws in pubs, clubs and restaurants.

It also proposes setting an ambitious target to be a zero-food waste city by creating a Newcastle Food Movement that would work with communities, partners and businesses to cut waste and promote food education.

A discount supermarket selling usable food discarded by producers and other supermarkets, and getting food outlets to discourage over-ordering and ‘doggy bags’, are also recommended.

The commission estimates that implementing the measures in the report could cut waste in the city by 10% by 2025 and increase recycling rates from 42% to 65% by 2030. Millions of pounds for the local economy and up to 1,000 jobs would also be created, it estimated.

Other recommendations for Newcastle in the report are: making waste minimisation a priority, new approaches to significantly increase recycling, local homes and businesses benefiting from waste converted to energy, and building zero-waste principles into homes, buildings and spaces.

As part of new approaches to boost recycling significantly, the report suggests maximising anaerobic digestion for food waste as well as the city’s composting operation. Tagging all bins so they can be weighed individually, and exploring how separate food waste collections for homes and businesses in the city could reduce waste, could also be considered. 

Maximising value from waste could be achieved via the creation of a Resource Newcastle Partnership to plan for and co-ordinate growth of the circular economy.

The report also suggests creating a ’reuse shopping mall’ to sell and swap unwanted items, and exploring alternatives to the council sending waste to Sweden. In 2015/16, it exported just under 28,000 tonnes of refuse-derived fuel to Sweden to be converted into heat and power, with the cost of exporting RDF to Sweden set to increase.

The city’s Future Homes Project is also a good opportunity to design-in sustainable approaches to waste in homes and communities, the report says.

It contains examples and short case studies which follow some of the recomended ideas.

By reducing waste, recycling more and reusing everyday items, the city can make a step change

Heidi Mottram

Newcastle collects 142,000 tonnes a year of waste, which is becoming increasingly costly to process. The report says around a third of municipal waste is sent to landfill, creating a missed opportunity to extract more value from it. A combination of economic and housing growth means waste costs are estimated to rise more than £600,000 a year.

Heidi Mottram, chair of the commission and chief executive of Northumbrian Water Group, said that dealing with waste was one of the biggest challenges of this generation, and there was a growing acceptance that people could not just carry on doing the same things.

“We all have a responsibility to wise-up to waste and do our bit,” said Mottram. “This report is full of ideas, big and small, short term and long term. I want as many people as possible to read it. If everyone pledges to do at least one thing, then together we can make a big difference.

“Ultimately, the people of Newcastle hold the key to success. By reducing waste, recycling more and reusing everyday items, the city can make a step change.”

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said the report would be of interest to other towns and cities because it considered many different ways of dealing with waste.

“We all generate waste, whether it be discarded food, old clothing, cardboard packaging or just general household waste,” said Forbes. ”The big challenge now is how we can come together to work in partnership and turn this report into a call for action.”

The council said it would work with partners across the city to implement as many of the recommendations as possible.

As well as Mottram, members of the commission (pictured) also includes:

  • Colin Church, CIWM chief executive (not present in the photograph)
  • Ben Webster, environment editor and oceans correspondent, The Times
  • Marie Fallon, director, Regulated Industry for the Environment Agency
  • Peter Maddox, WRAP UK director
  • Paul Taylor, UK chief executive FCC Environment 
  • Andy Griffiths, head of environmental sustainability, Nestlé UK and Ireland

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