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Household food waste drive challenges council budgets

WRAP’s research into greater consistency in household recycling suggests that a possible Government drive for more food collections could challenge local authority efforts to save money.

The organisation has published a report summarising pilots in seven waste partnerships as part of an overall strategy to increase recycling, improve the quality of recycled materials and save money while providing a good service to householders.

The results of the first phase of this framework involved testing the business case for three collection regimes at a local level, working with 49 authorities in seven partnerships (see box).

Linda Crichton Wrap

400 Linda Crichton Wrap

Linda Crichton, head of resource management at WRAP (pictured), said in a blog that the strength of the business case for change was mixed, depending on the starting position of the authorities and their existing provision – notably over food waste services.

She said some councils utilising a framework model could increase recycling rates and reduce cost. For others, recycling would increase but at an additional cost.

The pilots found that adding food waste collections was a “key challenge”. Those authorities already collecting food waste could achieve savings but, for the 80% or so of the ‘pilot’ authorities with no weekly food waste collection and operating a fortnightly residual collection, ”the opportunities for further savings or ability to add food waste at no additional cost were limited”.

This finding will be challenging for Defra in the face of councils’ austerity budgets because on 11 October, resource minister Therese Coffey told the Larac conference: “We are working on something but I can’t make any announcements because we have no agreement or the funding to do it, but we are trying to help every council to collect food waste. That is one of the top priorities.”

Coffey said she expected more on food collection in Defra’s waste and resource strategy due in 2018.

When the different framework systems were assessed, multi-stream and two-stream (with fibre separate) were more cost-effective than commingling. In recent years, there has been a tendency for more councils to adopt commingled regimes.

Crichton said “many authorities” were keen to look at options not considered in the national analysis, such as three-weekly residual waste collections and charging for garden waste collections.

“It seems to me that the framework is triggering debate and providing a platform from which to help inform future strategies. With many more contracts up for retendering in the next few years, I do hope more authorities will take the opportunity to challenge what they are doing and take a fresh look at the options available,” she added.

WRAP had received more than 300 responses to a consultation on the feasibility of a common container/bin colour scheme, and was planning to report on that in January.

“Achieving greater consistency in England’s recycling is not going to happen overnight, but it can happen,” she added. “It requires the right drivers and support to be in place and for all stakeholders to see and have a share of the benefits.

”Alongside our work at the local level, we have been providing evidence and analysis to Defra on how we could achieve higher recycling nationally and the measures and drivers that can help.”

The consistency framework has three aspects:

1) Households being able to recycle a core set of materials

2) Fewer collection and sorting systems

  • Multi-stream with separate food: Household plastic packaging, metals (cans, aerosols and foil) and cartons; glass containers and card; paper; food waste separate
  • Two-stream (fibres separate) with separate food: Household plastic packaging, metals, glass and cartons collected as one stream; paper and card collected as one stream; food waste separate
  • Commingled with separate food: All dry mixed recyclables collected as one stream; food waste separate

3) a possible common container colour system for residual, recycling, food and garden

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