As an industry, we are constantly evaluating and evolving the way we work to deliver business efficiencies, service improvements and hit targets.
I have great respect for my colleagues and peers at every level of the sector, but it remains a concern that the job we do day in and day out can at times be largely unappreciated by the general public.
Why is the service provided by the waste industry frequently overlooked?
Most UK residents probably have no idea that, of the 140,000 people employed in waste, tens of thousands will be shift workers, covering weekends, bank holidays and Christmas Days to keep the cycle moving. At London-Waste, almost 45% of our staff do some form of shift work.
Increasingly the public is expecting a sevenday service and the waste sector needs to ensure that it strives to meet that expectation. Not only does recycling need efficient logistics and management of materials, but it requires people with dedication and energy to be there when the public needs them. From reuse and recycling centres to energy generation, they all need professional management every day of the year, irrespective of holidays.
The waste industry provides services which are vital to everyone, but much of what we do is unseen. Yet any dip in service, particularly in household collections or access to recycling centres, can have an immediate impact on those who rely on what we do and their view of the level of service provided.
We have all seen tabloid headlines about ‘Rats in rubbish’, ‘120 complaints a day from irate residents’, ‘Extra services to compensate for Christmas break’ and more. That is why it is so important that we in the industry take pride in the fantastic work we do – for example meeting ever-more demanding targets; implementing increasingly efficient processes which save money; effectively managing health and safety on our sites; and introducing initiatives which make it easier for people to reuse and recycle more of their waste.
Yet, according to the Local Government Association, the number of physical assaults on waste sector employees is increasing every year as the public take out their frustrations on our frontline workers. There were 245 reported incidents in 2014. Our staff tell us that the real number is probably at least double that – the reality is they accept abuse as part of the job and often do not report it. Is this the case across many other industries? We must all work together in the sector and with the public to stop this happening.
The work done by the waste sector is essential to the daily lives of people and businesses. Waste is produced on a daily basis, and there would be huge social and economic effects if we were not doing such a great job.
So what can be done to improve how our sector is perceived? We need to work on raising our profile. Social media make it easy and cost-effective to get messages out, so we should talk more about our achievements and engage the public. The more we showcase our work via our websites and sites like YouTube and Twitter, the more people will understand what we do and the challenges the industry faces.
Our people work in all weathers and unpleasant conditions to provide a cleaner, safer environment. So let’s humanise our work and help residents to get to know the people working in their areas.
As a company, LondonWaste strives to be open, transparent and accountable to our community, which is why we open up our EcoPark each week for public tours, as well as hosting groups from schools and universities. Last year we welcomed hundreds of visitors, and their feedback and engagement show that the tour has inspired them to change how they behave with waste.
We value London’s waste – and are helping others see value in it too.
Making a Positive Contribution
- Viewing waste as a resource and avoiding the final disposal of as many materials and substances as possible, thereby contributing to resource efficiency and a cycle economy is one of the most valuable benefits that the waste sector can contribute to the economy.
- Since 1990, the EU has reduced its emissions by 31%, mainly via reduced methane emissions from landfills.
- In England alone, the wider waste industry deals with 165.1 million tonnes of material per year.
- Councils collect more than 26 million tonnes of waste in the UK a year.
- Achieving the 70% recycling targets outlined in national waste strategies would create an additional 51,400 jobs, providing £2.9 billion gross value added contribution to the UK economy.
Peter Sharpe is managing director of LondonWaste