During the past few years, councils have been under heavy pressure to reduce their expenditure, and this will continue for the foreseeable future.
Their clear priority has to be maintaining key services, yet cuts need to be made somewhere and communications budgets are often seen as an ‘easy win’.
But as demonstrated by Waste on the Front Line – Challenges and Innovations, a report produced earlier this year by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and Ricardo AEA, there is a clear link between active communications with residents and recycling engagement.
The authors interviewed 226 waste officers across 183 councils, with 69% reporting budget cuts. Almost half said there had been a reduction in communications budgets. But the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) UK is finding that cuts are going much deeper.
Where councils would previously have added extra materials to kerbside services mid-contract, this seems less likely now. It also seems that the number of councils extending the range of kerbside collected material at their contract changeover point is also decreasing.
This is all leading to a slowdown in the number of councils adding cartons as part of their kerbside service. In 2010, a peak of 23 councils added cartons as part of their kerbside service between January and July. During the same period in 2014, the number was eight and in 2015 just three.
This is concerning given that there had been a stable increase in the number of councils adding cartons as part of their kerbside service since 2009. Even though 62% of the 391 waste collection authorities currently collect cartons at the kerbside, ACE UK wants to help more councils and waste management companies make that transition.
The team knows where the resource is needed most: only 19% of local authorities in Yorkshire and Humber recycle cartons at kerbside, 30% in the south-west of England and 39% in the north-west. In comparison, Wales has 64% coverage, Scotland will be at 75% by the end of 2015, London is at 88% and the north-east of England is at 92% coverage. Northern Ireland trumps them all with 100% coverage of cartons collected at kerbside.
Another consequence of council budget cuts around recycling is greater contamination and more fly-tipping at bring banks. There has been a reduction in bring bank services, with less frequent emptying and removal of banks altogether. This can be due to an increase in kerbside services or the need to cut spending in an area of great expense for relatively small recycling returns.
Either way, this is leading to issues with the quality of material brought to remaining unmanned bring bank sites across the UK.
ACE UK’s main contractor and numerous councils are having to deal with contamination such as glass, textiles, card and paper. There are also increasing problems at carton recycling banks with fly-tipped commercial waste such as leaflets, boxes, and even boulders and sinks.
We are not the only bring bank provider facing such difficulties: other fibre-based bring bank collectors are experiencing the same issues. The consequence of reduced communications budgets are more than just flatlining recycling rates: there is more contamination to be dealt with.
ACE UK has focused on communications as a key area of support for councils. This includes developing a range of materials to help them engage with residents as part of their kerbside or bring bank recycling programmes. In 2014 the team launched a campaign called ‘re:cartons’ and a toolkit which includes:
- Downloadable communications resources including factsheets, posters, case studies, photographs and videos
- Free promotional items such as fridge magnets, pencils, stickers, trolley coins and so on
- An interactive map of the UK showing the beverage carton recycling services available in each local authority area
ACE UK is also currently working on a localised animated web banner that councils can add to their recycling website. The graphic will reflect the container type and colour used for the kerbside recycling service in that area to encourage residents to recycle their cartons and other accepted items.
Our preference is to try to tailor our work with individual councils – because they require bespoke solutions.
Fay Dashper is senior recycling manager at ACE UK