I‘ve been struck by the latest in the regular surveys by the Local Government Association into public attitudes to their local authorities. A remarkable finding, given the mesmerising challenges faced by councils this year, is that satisfaction with waste collections is at its highest for seven years. Since 2012, when the survey started, the ‘very satisfied’ figure of 47%, recorded three months ago, has never been better, while 84% were either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied, a rating beaten only once previously. It shows that councils are doing what councils do best: innovating and working with their citizens despite limited resources.
They need the right tools, of course, and the coming Recycle Week – an element of the Recycle Now (RN) campaign managed by WRAP for the last 17 years – plays a big part in these efforts. And this week, for the first time, there is the welcome boost of sponsorship from 15 major brands. They have come on board because they can see the initiative works: last year, for example, an impressive 91 per cent of people who saw the campaign told us they recycled more than in the previous year. Ninety per cent of councils in England are signed up to RN, ensuring a consistency of messaging for householders. People do want to recycle their waste and the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have given us all time to reflect on the resources we use – and throw away. Local authorities are at the centre of any collective drive to greater recycling and, based on the LGA findings, that role is highly valued.
It’s also been great to see renewed momentum in Defra’s Resources & Waste Strategy for England, in which Town Halls have a major role. Last month, they published two policy papers covering monitoring and evaluation work. One sets out how progress will be assessed against the Government’s wider strategy, which includes the 25 Year Environment Plan and the Industrial Strategy. The other considers how to assess the impact of implementing new policies and, incidentally, references WRAP’s work on more than 20 occasions. Of 100 or so commitments in the Resources & Waste Strategy, Defra sets out five for an initial focus and they are big areas: reform of producer responsibility for packaging; plastics; consistency in recycling collections; deposit return scheme for drinks; and waste crime and poor performance in the waste sector. All are hugely relevant to local authorities.
Households in England produced around 22 million tonnes or so of waste in 2018, around 45% of which went for recycling, with the rest into energy recovery or landfill. The strategy, in simple terms, is about getting more from our resources, cutting the total mass of waste, boosting recycling and reuse, and reducing our reliance on the lower levels of the waste hierarchy such as energy-from-waste. There is a switch from ‘household’ waste to ‘municipal’ waste, by including businesses that produce household-like waste (think of your local estate agent: lots of paper and empty coffee cups, I’d suggest). To achieve its circular economy targets, England will have to recycle 55% of municipal waste by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035.
That’s why Recycle Week is so important, this year of all years. If we want to achieve these challenging recycling targets in future, we need to acknowledge everyone that has helped us get this far, both householders and the key workers collecting our recycling and waste, and then support them to go even further. Local authorities have a vital role to play here, and I am particularly delighted that the hard work of the nation’s dedicated public servants is getting the recognition it deserves. As the Recycle Week campaign puts it: Together – we recycle.
Peter Maddox is director of WRAP UK