Resource Futures’ chief executive, Sam Reeve, looks at the role of the household waste recycling centre in today’s waste and resource management economy – it’s come a long way from being the “local tip” and has an important role to play in reuse and educating the public too…
Over recent years, questions have been asked about the relevancy and usefulness of household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) as a valid contributor to the UK’s waste and resource management economy. Performance levels have been impacted by austerity measures and the tightening up of accepted materials, which has pushed HWRCs into the scrutiny spotlight.
The Case For…
And yet, the evidence suggests that HWRCs are a much needed and used resource across the UK. In England, 19% of household arisings came through the sites, which would reduce recycling rates by 4% if taken away. What’s more, if 50% of the 1.6m tonnes of HWRC residual waste was diverted for recycling or reuse, recycling rates would have been boosted by a further 3.5%. Analysis of WDF shows Wales as the top performing recycling home nation from HWRCs. The recycling rate in England improved in 2014/15 but is still not back to 2011/12 levels, whilst Northern Ireland is improving. The picture for Scotland is less clear due to the fact that it has not published data for over two years.
We have two options in addressing the HWRC question – allow them to become less relevant and useful, or develop them to truly have an impact? Any changes to HWRC service provision requires careful planning to minimise unintended consequences. When considering the options, there are a number of questions that need to be answered:
- Site consolidation – where does the waste go? What is the impact on neighbouring sites?
- Reduction in opening hours – will this confuse customers? Would it result in more kerbside waste?
- Black bag splitting – does this improve the customer experience? Is this the best message to convey for positive behaviour change?
- Charging for DIY type waste – what is the impact on neighbouring sites that do not charge?
- Community-run sites – where is the consistency and reliability? Do they perform? What is the reality?
- Fee-based commercial waste acceptance – what is the impact on residents’ site use experience and staff?
But perhaps it is reuse that holds the most potential. Our research shows that reuse is consistently associated with top performing sites in terms of recycling volumes.
What For The Future?
With good decision-making, there can be continual improvement. The vernacular evolution from “the tip” to “civic amenity site” to “household waste recycling centre” shouldn’t stop; some are now being referred to as “resource reuse centres”, which is encouraging.
HWRCs bring an added visual and active dimension for the public in becoming aware of waste and resources; participating in this element of community life can be an important way of educating people and in changing behaviour. There are also the added community benefits of job provision, volunteering and making use of items that have value for residents. Local authorities can take a holistic view of services to align HWRCs with their overall waste strategy.
Public needs, use and expectation of HWRCs is evolving, as the recent Bristol Reuse Network project has demonstrated. Over 4 tonnes of items were reused in just one month of being onsite at the St. Philips HWRC in Bristol.
Help & Evidence Is “Out There”
Guidance is plentiful and available. Resource Futures has worked with WRAP to develop and deliver an HWRC Guide. The guide sets out good practice and the latest in legislation, it also provides evidence-based approaches to assessing and improving HWRC performance. The National HWRC directory also developed by Resource Futures for WRAP is available online and provides a benchmarking tool, with the 2014-15 edition due out imminently.
In addition, there is a suite of “how to” guides available on the WRAP waste prevention and reuse portal, several of which focus on HWRC reuse. The guides outline how local authorities can incorporate reuse at HWRCs including options and considerations, the drivers for reuse at the sites as well as the operational aspects. A new guide is being added looking at HWRC reuse shops benchmarking.
Working with Defra’s HWRC reuse working group, we’ve also produced a HWRC procurement guide on reuse services, which will be published in the summer. It provides guidance on criteria, incentives and assessment, as well as an overview of the benefits and examples of where it has worked.
So there is much to play for; HWRCs have a clear contribution to make to recycling and reuse performance and they act as a powerful, informative awareness tool to incite and embed positive behaviour change. They could well be the social hangout for the next generation.