Working in and with council waste management does not get any easier.
According to the latest Government figures, annual spending by English councils on waste collection shrank by 12.2% and cash for recycling was reduced by 7.6% – with no significant increase in revenue from the sale of recovered and recycled materials to boost budgets.
Within days of that, the chancellor cut the state contribution to local authorities in the spending review, prompting the Local Government Association to warn that the consequences for local services “should not be underestimated”.
Despite the town hall gloom, it is not the end of the world. As a report in February from the then Ricardo-AEA for the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management showed, councils have successfully pioneered a number of cost-reduction waste initiatives in the face of austerity measures and retained momentum.
It is determination like that which puts South Oxfordshire District Council at the top of the collection ‘league table’ and means that Biffa can boast it has transformed the rate in Ashford from 13.4% in 2012 to 55.3% this year.
But the combination of austerity and low recyclate prices are testing relations between councils and their commercial partners. The Environmental Services Association wants councils to take a greater share of the risk in their contracts, and more councils seem prepared to take collections back in-house when the sums no longer make as much sense.
The focus is understandably on the here and now. But Defra’s latest data showed for the first time that recovery tonnages by local authorities have exceeded landfill, a significant shift that will be maintained for some time. Sector leaders such as Viridor have benefitted hugely from recognising that and responding to it.
This was written on the day the European Commission published its circular economy package, the worst-kept secret in Brussels with the key proposals reported by MRW in recent weeks.
I was struck by an observation that more than half of the directorates in the Commission were involved in some way. The knowledge that the new Directives will affect an even wider section of the economy than present offers real opportunities for our sector. The key is to keep our eyes on the road ahead and not in the mirror.