Waste Strategy 2017-2040: Why we need to change

Cllr Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Enviroment, writes on the reasons why Birmingham needs a new waste strategy...

After months of planning, preparation and fine-tuning, we’ve finally reached the point at which we can publish our Waste Strategy 2017-2040.

The strategy, shaped by an extensive period of public consultation last year, is effectively a road map that outlines what our key challenges and aims are for the next generation when it comes to tackling the waste each and every one of us creates.

Given that we already collect 500,000 tonnes of rubbish annual and population growth means we will have to collect a further 60,000 (based on current trends) by 2031, no change is simply not an option.

Our vision for 2040 can essentially be summarised as follows:

  • Waste is reduced wherever possible
  • Recycling and re-use is maximised
  • Where we cannot prevent, re-use or recycle, we will maximise recovery through energy generation
  • Eliminate waste from going to landfill (Birmingham becoming a Zero Waste city)
  • People who live here all play their part in viewing and utilising waste as a resource

To make the vision a reality there are some headline targets we need to work to:

  • Achieving 70 per cent recycling by 2040 (compared to a most recent annual figure of 26.8 per cent in 2016/17)
  • Reduce waste generated per person by 10 per cent (from 2014/15 baseline of 345kg) by 2025
  • Eliminate landfill waste by 2040 (currently approx. 7.5 per cent annually)

All of this clearly poses the big question “how will you do this?” It is a fair question, and there are some broad approaches we can take.

We need the whole community to get involved (we have started this effort with the first phase of our Zero Heroes campaign – and there are plenty of resources on our website to help people think about how they view and deal with their waste).

Partnership working will continue to be key (with retailers/manufacturers on over-packaging, other key local organisations such as GBSLEP, and community groups at a grassroots level to share messaging and information with citizens).

Also, our approach to urban design will be critical (planning policy for new buildings and re-development projects to provide suitable space for bins and access for recycling vehicles etc).

Two big issues that often come up are food recycling and the frequency of bin collections. We have a very clear position on both topics.

Food waste accounts for 48 per cent of rubbish in the typical Birmingham bin. Balancing up all of the considerations (including the responses to the public consultation) we think it is best to invest in education and awareness-raising to cut the amount of such waste that is generated – rather than invest in a dedicated collection service.

The experience from other councils is that when they have introduced such schemes, participation drops off significantly once people realise how much they are wasting. To avoid the costs of buying new bins and introducing collection rounds, we will take an approach based on education and engagement instead.

And on the issue of bin collections, we are clear there are absolutely no plans to change the frequency of collections in the city from their normal routine of weekly for household rubbish and fortnightly for recycling.

We are making other changes to the service at the moment such as modernising the way in which our crews go about their job to improve productivity and further disruption from changing over 100 bin rounds in this way is not something we are willing to consider.

You may also be wondering why we are talking about this long-term strategy when we are still in the recovery phase after recent industrial action by refuse collectors.

The disposal of waste and the reduction of the amount of waste we generate are at the heart of this strategy. The issue of refuse collection (at the centre of the strike) is completely different.

We need to have this strategy for waste disposal and minimisation as there are massive implications on the environment and service cost if we do nothing. By addressing the challenge as we are proposing, our services will improve and we’ll be able to invest more money into front-line services.

There is lots of information in the strategy document, and I would urge anyone with an interest in such matters to spend a few minutes taking a look at what we are proposing.

This blog was posted on 27 September 2017

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