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The Jonas blog : Achieving 50% recycling by 2020

14th September 2015

Hitting the ‘big 5-0’ by 2020 is looking touch and go based upon the past couple of years’ performance and the sector-specific trends that are starting to emerge. We are still obsessed with weight: we have to be, we have been brought up this way. We measure cost and obligations by weight, we measure vehicle payload this way, and our service level agreements and contracts default to weight based KPIs.  At UK and EU level we now need to think differently – perhaps by volume? By CO2 offset? Or maybe per capita…

Meeting current targets is going to get even harder, some say impossible, especially now that some of the large urban ‘dial movers’ begin to question their financial ability to take the brunt of the numbers. This, alongside a trending increase in waste arisings in southern urban areas, reversing nearly half a decade of decline.

Consider the metrics

So something needs to change. I am sure there are many statisticians working out the pros and cons of amending weight-based calculation methods. They could include waste streams excluded at present (IBA – recycled for productive use as aggregate within a busy construction sector – is an obvious starter), they could widen interpretation of the data (standardising an approach taken by other EU members), or they could apply greater influence on activities higher up the hierarchy – minimisation or reuse. Surely this should count for more in meeting targets than kilogrammes of Leylandii bushes collected and composted?

Thinking big

Clearly we all need to working in partnership to reduce the cost base – this is a core focus of our work at the moment. When we reduce the cost base we can reinvest the savings elsewhere, to take us to the higher levels (however measured) of reduction, reuse, recycling, or recovery – just so long as disposal is avoided. My view is that as we move into the second part of this decade and on into the next, we need greater synergy of systems and processing than we have now.

I don’t mean the same systems across the whole of the country – but I do mean similar systems in regional and sub regional areas (or ‘powerhouses’, to use the current vogue). There are many smart examples, both in this country and in the EU, where we have seen cost savings in all areas of our sector when services are aligned by progressive partnerships, realising economies of scale. Such savings are in procurement, management, vehicles and processing assets, and all quite easy to quantify. We usually see this in county areas or across metropolitan Waste Disposal Authorities. We should, and will soon need to, think bigger than this – how about aggregated service models for the whole of London, for all south east counties, all of Wales? There can be real benefits in engagement at this scale – just imagine how much more straightforward, consistent and cost-effective it will be to engage with greater swathes of the north of england on the needs of the minimisation, reuse and recycling services – assuming, of course, that the service remains publicly funded into the next decade.

Critical success factors

To make sure that our sector remains firmly embedded in our quadrant of the increasingly circular economy, there are two critical areas that we must focus on over the coming years: engagement and new technology. Effective engagement is needed in all directions – encouraging higher participation levels in hard-to-reach areas, ensuring the right stuff goes in the right bin, and properly engaging with the specifiers of materials and packaging. Why, in this day and age, do we still need to make drink bottles and their lids out of fundamentally different materials?

Many commentators have regularly assessed the capacity needed for our sector – and I refer here to the reuse, recycling and recovery infrastructure required. Call it what you like, there also has to be a massive leap forward in the technology we deploy and the scale at which it is deployed – particularly in the recycling space. Final stage reprocessors of materials are consolidating facilities to reduce cost and improve product quality, and those in the collection, sorting and segregation service areas need to do the same. Larger facilities for sorting and segregation, based around the needs of the geography they serve, deploying the smarter technology that can be derived from a properly funded research and development programme – as a sector, this is what we need to strive towards, and then we can .

Then we can look to hit targets of 50%, 70% or make progress and achieve greater productivity because it makes good common sense.

Chris Jonas
Director of Business Development
September 2015

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