At this time of year, it is normal for festive cheer to be going around and people getting into the festive spirit. However, the release of the latest recycling rates has put a bit of a dampener on that for our industry, and caused plenty of comment and reaction. There has been the sound of plenty of knees jerking and the use of non-festive c words – ‘consistency’ and ‘confusion’, one of which is missing the point and the other is down-right damaging.
Calls for mandatory targets are also way off the mark. Without extra funding those calling for such things are saying they think feeding their plants for their profits is more important than adult care, social services or education. OK, perhaps a bit unfair but the point is there is no one answer and looking at targets on their own misses the fundamental point – our budgets have diminished across all local authority services and waste management is now being told to shoulder a portion of that burden.
Going back to consistency, the work of the WRAP led working group came out with three collection models. Yes, their preferred option was kerbside sort – but only where it proved the most cost effective option, and in some areas, it won’t be the most cost-effective option. In some areas, neither will collecting food waste. So, consistent packaging, collection and reprocessing will have benefits but will not solve all the problems.
The ‘confusing’ tag that gets applied is the worst of them all. Every time we, as in industry, reinforce that tag it becomes a little bit more set in stone, regardless of the reality. It is easy for someone to say it is confusing. Let’s face it, if we answered a survey would we be truthful enough to say we are lazy and not doing the right thing, or would we shift the blame somewhere else? I know communication budgets are being cut but the vast majority of local authorities still do have comms going on. And we know that even in those areas people will wilfully ignore the information because they want to ‘do the right thing’. I am not saying we couldn’t be better or that we gloss over issues but every time we say things are confusing we are in effect damaging our own industry – think Ratners. We need to stop talking like that if we are going to move things forward.
The truth is recycling costs. Some quarters in Wales will tell you how they are reducing costs by collecting food waste and going three weekly residual. And they will be reducing costs compared to two years ago, when they first implemented a comprehensive scheme. But they will still be spending a lot more than five years ago, when Wales had a ‘lowly’ 40% rate. The Welsh Government did have a clear policy direction, but the that just showed the way, to get there has required massive investment and support. Until that happens in England then we can kid ourselves that we can make everything the same and then the recycling rate will rocket. If only it were that simple, we would have done it already.