Up to a possible £464m could be saved overall if councils spending the most on their waste responsibilities brought down their spending to the average for their authority type, says the Audit Commission, having identified “wide variation” across authorities.
The report, “Local authority waste management: Using data from the Value for Money (VFM) Profiles”, shows that spending on, and levels of, waste managed by councils have reduced nationally since 2009/10.
It suggests that if high-spending councils brought their costs down to the national average for their authority type, an overall saving of £464m could be made.
Audit Commission chairman, Jeremy Newman said: “It’s good news that local authorities have reduced their spending on household waste by £46m over the past four years and have reduced levels of waste sent to landfill. Councils have achieved these important improvements by working with local people and exercising choice about what works best in their own circumstances.
“Councils know their population and their needs and require the freedom to choose the approach to waste management most suited to them. The Audit Commission acknowledges the need to respect local decisions and has never told councils to use specific methods of waste collection or disposal. Targets and regulation around waste management are driven by the ‘waste hierarchy’ set out in legislation.”
The hierarchy identifies five steps for dealing with waste, ranked according to the environmental impact of each option. Preventing the creation of waste is the ideal option with the best environmental outcome. When waste cannot be avoided, the waste hierarchy gives priority to preparing it for re-use, then recycling, then recovery and last of all disposal to landfill.
Although recycling has increased, the rate is variable across the country. In 2012/13, the amount of waste recycled varied from 12 percent up to 67 percent, with one fifth of authorities recycling at least 50 percent of their household waste.
However, nationally the increase in recycling has slowed in recent years and 40 authorities recycled less than 30 percent of their household waste in 2012/13. Landfill has reduced everywhere, but some regions are still more reliant than others.
Newman continues: “In 2012/13 local authorities spent a fifth of their total expenditure on the most desirable option for household waste management: minimisation and recycling.
“They spent the other four-fifths on the collection and disposal of waste – the least desirable options. Councils have the power to influence and encourage residents to do the right thing and they control the levels of spending on the range of waste management options available to them. Their choices ultimately affect how well the environment is protected and the quality of waste services residents receive.
Jeremy Newman, Audit Commission – “It’s good news that local authorities have reduced their spending on household waste by £46m over the past four years and have reduced levels of waste sent to landfill”
“Councils can use this briefing to consider how to manage household waste and what can be done to improve the service people receive and how to best protect the environment and reduce expenditure.”
The average spending on household waste management varied between local authorities with similar responsibilities.
Most authorities that both collect and dispose of waste (58 percent) spent between £125 and £175 per household in 2012/13. Twenty eight percent spent more than £175 and thirteen per cent spent more than £200 per household.
“Spending on waste minimisation is very low and the rate at which the levels of recycling have risen has slowed down. This means that although local authorities have improved how they manage waste – reducing landfill and increasing recycling – at the current rate of change, the UK as a whole will not meet its 2020 recycling target.
“Reducing waste to landfill is a good environmental action and saves money. This saving could be used to support more sustainable forms of waste management or be reinvested in other services,” Newman concludes.
Roger Edwards, managing director Biffa’s municipal division which provides recycling, refuse and cleansing services for nearly 40 local authorities, said: “There is a lot to digest in this comprehensive report. Biffa supports every effort by local authorities to recycle more, spend less, minimise waste and return value to their residents through efficient recycling improvement and waste reduction initiatives.
“Cross-sector work to improve the quality, and therefore market value, of recycled materials is an important objective for councils and contractors alike, an objective that must be supported by clear, coherent and informative communication campaigns targeted at residents.”
For the full report CLICK HERE