Buoyed Up! Not Bowed Down

Paul-Vanston-2015Manager of the Kent Resource Partnership and an ambassador for RWM in Partnership with CIWM, Paul Vanston, is looking for a positive attitude from across the sector. He may not be shouting “we can change the world”, but has seen plenty that suggests we should be buoyed up, not bowed down.

graduation-students-mortar-boardsTwo weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the graduation of around 100 students who received their bachelors and masters degrees, and doctorates, at University College London (UCL). With no overstatement at all, it was one of the most positive, hopeful and inspiring occasions I’ve witnessed in years. For me, on a par with the spirit of the London Olympics. A day of beaming faces based on achievement, high hopes and positive about what the future can hold if they will it so. Everyone was incredibly buoyed up. No-one looked bowed down.

The UCL’s core message was that these graduates could “change the world” from that day forward. A little over the top, perhaps? Not one bit! The evidence was paraded before us. Past graduates who, through their skills, endeavours, innovation, determination and sheer doggedness, had made strides in engineering, sciences, medicine, technology and other essential walks of today’s life.

I was imbued with hope that today’s achievers would get stuck into society’s problems and find the solutions that have evaded us up to now. This powerful message that people ‘can change the world’ enthuses me greatly.

In our own industry, three current major themes come to mind where I am positive about our own ability to effect change – supply chain optimisation, partnership working, and achieving 50% recycling in 2020.

Supply chain optimisation

We’ve been saying for years that a more joined up approach is needed from packaging design, through to household collection, and back into a quality recycled product again. True supply chain efficiency eludes us, as does eliminating “waste” in both senses as a physical product and also in terms of “lean management”. The latter is a decades old philosophy, much celebrated, well proven, and enables entire supply chains (and let’s also call them value chains) to achieve the true efficiency we all say we desire.

Paul speaking at Resourcing The Future, where the message of consistency was heard loud and clear

To his substantial credit the new Defra Minister, Rory Stewart, has set-up a “Consistency Sub-Group” to look at these issues. Importantly, by November he wishes to hear what we can all do together to tackle the issues we’ve been raising for years. As a validator of the need for this initiative, “consistency” was a major theme of the first day of this year’s Resourcing The Future conference (organised by CIWM, ESA and Resource Association) in June where “optimisation”, “standardisation”, and “harmonisation” were repeatedly discussed. Whilst much was made of the barriers to change, including many seemingly intractable “Berlins walls” that we can’t scale and conquer, others in the audience quietly reflected on what and who are the enablers to change.

This Sub-Group may not “change the world” overnight but its time has come and I, for one, am willing positive progress. We will see whether any “Berlin walls” may start to come tumbling down across our industry. There are plenty of us standing ready with our hammers and chisels to help the Sub-Group with the hard work.

Partnership working

There remains substantial belief that our industry’s future successes, especially within local government, can be better achieved through partnership working. Speaking of councils, let alone the whole supply chain, there are many examples to prove this principle is right across the country including in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, North London, Somerset, Manchester, Surrey, Yorkshire and my own county of Kent. Whether we’ve maxed-out on the opportunities is another question altogether. There are many views from people whom I respect that the supply chain (councils included) have substantial latent potential that’s there for the tapping.

So I am really pleased the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO) recently changed its constitution to allow membership from partnerships of councils. Several partnerships have joined already – more are welcome.

Even more pleasing is NAWDO’s desire to set-up a NAWDO Partnerships Forum. The appetite to do so will be tested at a NAWDO Partnerships Workshop organised for 21st September in London. I can say the response from colleagues to explore greater partnership working has been terrific. Those due to attend the Workshop represent councils that collect half of all England’s municipal waste. Defra, DCLG, Local Partnerships and Beasley Associates are supporting the discussions. I’m more than “glass half full” that a positive announcement on the new Partnerships Forum will emerge shortly afterwards.

50% Recycling in 2020

Lastly, there is the thorny issue of whether the UK will meet 50% recycling/composting in 2020. Part of me appreciates how hard it is going to be to meet a tonnage based target where quality is now just as important as quantity. Part of me questions the validity of tonnage based targets at all, and the obvious behaviours they drive to the probable detriment of more worthwhile pursuits. Part of me also thinks the EU targets arrived prior to the worst economic downturn across Europe for generations – and this should be taken into account when (and if) the European Commission opts for doling out the fines in 2021, or not.

However, as someone who has “lived” recycling as my job for over a decade, and in my home for much longer, I’d hate to allow defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory. We’re so close to 50%. Much of the hard work has been done. Just as bad, with four years to go until the target year, I would not want anyone to throw in the towel now while the bell for the “final round” is a long way off from being struck.

I and plenty others remember celebrating recycling rates at 15 to 20% and saying how hard we’d work to reach 30 to 35%. We’re now at 45% as a nation, and in Kent as it happens. Whilst the tonnage target doesn’t allow all areas of the UK to reach 50% by 2020 for very understandable reasons, there are plenty others of us where it’s achievable – and where costs do not have to rise to move forward. Indeed, the partnership working agenda talked of earlier can be used to very good effect in raising performance within (or, in some cases, below) existing costs.

On supply chain togetherness, councils’ partnership working, and our resolve to meet the 50% recycling target, I am buoyed up like those UCL graduates. I can see scenarios on all these issues that are better tomorrow than what prevails today.

Whilst we may not physically shout “we can change the world”, I do hope a strong inner belief and resolve to that effect is what we wake up with each day, take into meetings, and imbue in our colleagues. Now that sort of spirit contagiously buoys up. The more of it the better.


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