Waiting for the new normal to arrive

Looking back to my last blog, it was the 27th April and the big debate of the day was how to open the 96% of HWRCs that were closed following the lockdown due to Coronavirus. In my authority ours were closed and we were working closely with our contractors to come up with a way to safely reopen them. Across the country there were almost weekly video conferences on the subject. At least they were a way of checking that my colleagues and peers were still alive and kicking!

May was the purple period for HWRC reopening in England. Up and down the land HWRC gates were opened for the expectant mass of public and their vehicles piled high with bin bags and DIY remnants. LARAC members were keen to share successes and disasters and there were a few entertaining emails about the latter, if only I could share them with you. Personally, I was very satisfied when Defra lobbied to have a visit to a HWRC clearly identified as a permissible journey and got the regulations amended, ending the confusion that had reigned.

It was the experience of the local government community pulling together, when councils in the East Midlands region began sharing their proposals, that I found personally rewarding. Reading others' good ideas and being able to incorporate them into our plans helped make the task a little easier. And then, as we reopened, learning about what had worked and what had been problematic again helped shape how we reacted day by day. This is one of the strengths of working in councils – when our backs are against the wall, we really do help each other. I've never had someone refuse to help when I've approached them, even if I didn't know them when I made the contact. We are the best examples of public servants and I congratulate you all on the hard work you do and the speed with which you try to help people.

But the HWRC story is not yet ended. None of us have returned to operating exactly as we were before the lockdown. Long queues, restrictions on the types of waste accepted, reduced opening days or hours, are happening around the country.



But it is an opportunity to question just what HWRCs are for.

What they shouldn't be is a dumping ground for any problem item a resident happens to have in their possession.

Manufacturers should not be able to pass on to the public purse problems associated in dealing with their goods when they are no longer usable. Hopefully EPR will be the tool that government will use to make manufacturers more socially responsible. Many goods are wholly or partly recyclable and we should attempt to do so. But as custodians of the public purse we should aspire to do so in a social contract with manufacturers where the burden is shared. The plastic tax, EPR and DRS are the first building blocks of this social contract and I hope to see these broadened in the years to come so that manufacturers and their customers become more engaged with the challenges of dealing with waste to enable more reuse and recycling. Because until you know the true economic and environmental impact of a thing, only then can you have an honest debate about whether you need it: the reduce part of the hierarchy.