Consistency is 'the thing' not Collection

As has been shown already with the recent Green Alliance report consistency is likely to be a buzzword of 2017. Most people might think that Producer Responsibility will be ‘the thing’ but in a way, I find consistency the more interesting and challenging subject. Last year WRAP led an industry wide group that produced the ‘Consistency Framework’, a group LARAC was heavily involved in. The work started as a collection project but quickly became a supply chain project. This is clear in the vision that work produced:

‘By 2025 packaging is designed to be recyclable, where practical and environmentally beneficial, and is labelled clearly to indicate whether it can be recycled or not. Every household in England can recycle a common set of dry recyclable materials and food waste, collected in one of three different ways’

So, why do others in the industry undo the hard, and ground breaking work, WRAP did by focusing on the collections aspect of this? I am not sure but it is frustrating within the local authority community that others are not taking the time to understand both our role in the chain and the environment we work in. Yes, the modelling work by WRAP does show there are savings to be made but the work, and WRAP themselves, acknowledge the model needs to be tested in each area, as it may not stake up in certain circumstances. Yet others still shout for one single collection system across the UK – frustrating that they are ignoring WRAP on this.

Some people will argue that local authorities (and maybe even me) are ignoring the WRAP work by pushing against a move to kerbside sort. Not at all, I have never been anti-kerbside sort and introduced the very system WRAP (and Welsh Government through their Blueprint) supports when I worked in Powys. I am, however, pro-choice in local areas, where proper options appraisals and modelling has been done. If the business case shows that X service is the best for that area, then X should be the one to go for.

WRAP should be commended on many levels for the work on consistency – not least for the funding they have been able to get to support local authorities in exactly these kinds of options appraisals. It will be interesting to see what lessons we can learn from these as they take place. For me though, in a way, the Framework is actually the (very good) beginning of the consistency work. I think and hope the real change will come about in a few years, as the outputs from the various working groups that are carrying on the consistency work start to be delivered. That is because they are looking at the design of products and the end markets that we deliver to, changes in which will enable local authorities to be consistent in what they collect from residents. We shouldn’t underestimate the potential this work has  to redesign the resource supply chain and, if it does come off, WRAP should rightly be proud of having led it.

Local authorities will always be targets for, well virtually anyone, it comes with the territory. In the past, WRAP has often been a target as well, maybe because of their Quango (look it up younger people) beginnings. And that has always been unfair, their support to local authorities alone has been worth its weight in gold and the work with retailer and product designers does not always get the recognition it should. The industry is in a better place because of the work they have done and if the industry focuses on consistency across the complete resource chain, instead of just the middle collection part, then the difference that they will make in the future could be even more dramatic.