Modulo Béton UK’s Sylvia van den Dam looks at how to prepare household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs) for a circular economy based on data-driven decisions, prevent queuing and raise awareness to contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle.
How to turn waste into gold
Does this sound like a fairy tale? 2019 research by The Royal Society of Chemistry found that 51% of UK households have at least one unused electronic device – such as mobile phones, computers, smart TVs, MP3 players or e-readers – and 45% have up to five. Of these 82% have no plans to recycle or sell on their devices after they fall out of use.
These facts may sound a bit depressing, but the positive part is that there is so much to gain. What if all those devices were brought to a HWRC with a repair hub where they could be repaired? And what if those devices were brought to a civic amenity (CA) site and were used partly or entirely to recycle or to create new products? An example of a HWRC that already offers such a possibility is “Upcycling Centre Almere”, where a Modulo modular split-level HWRC has been built.
The interiors of the modular blocks are now being used by start-ups with a heart for sustainability and the circular economy. They have permission to collect useful parts of the waste that is brought to the waste depot and use it to produce their new products.
An example of what one of the start-ups does is collect metal parts (gold, copper) from PC motherboards and use it to create jewellery. Yes, there is even literally gold in material that we usually consider as waste. The only thing that needs to be done is create a HWRC that facilitates those activities.
Unwanted/negative effects of booking systems
A well- organised traffic flow is an important factor, not only for the safety of staff and residents, but also for the experienced service-level at HWRCs. The more convenient it is for the visitors, the more likely it is that they will take the effort to bring more and cleaner waste streams to the waste depot.
This will lead to higher recycling rates and less materials ending in landfill. Unfortunately, some CA sites do not have this desired service-level yet because they have to close from time to time for the handling of skips. This can easily result in queuing.
Sometimes this even leads to unacceptable and dangerous situations on the roads leading to the HWRCs. Because of the COVID-19 situation, many councils and waste companies now are using booking systems to prevent queues. This remedy may prevent queues, however, the side effects, e.g. regarding fly-tipping and increased costs of kerbside collected waste, are not yet known and may be significant.
Some councils have reported that they are facing an increase of 15% in fly-tipping already. Other councils have noticed a decrease of one third in the amount of waste brought to the HWRC, which affects recycling rates negatively. This means that booking systems can be a short-term solution, but in the longer term may have too many negative side effects.
Residents will probably understand restrictions during COVID-19 times, but in the longer term will experience these measures as a decrease in service-level (too restrictive).
Cllr Simon Walsh, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Climate Change Action, said1: “Where a booking system is used to minimise queues it will lead to significant restrictions in the number of users that can be accommodated in a day to accommodate the varying unloading times and ensure booking slots are met In the small number of areas where booking systems have been deployed sites have often had to limit their visitor numbers to less than 300 per day. On a normal busy weekend centres will handle in excess of 20,000 visitors a day”.
There are suggestions that Central Government has the opinion that booking systems are ‘too restrictive’ and therefore will be forbidden.
Alternatives for booking systems
Are there alternatives and what are the requirements for such alternatives? Available alternatives that are less restrictive are real-time cameras linked to a website that allows residents to see how busy it currently is at the HWRC. These camera systems can conflict with GDPR-regulations and therefore cannot be used in many situations. Furthermore, the cameras only depict the live situation at a HWRC and do not collect any useful data.
A better alternative could be an innovation called Q-meter, a GDPR-proof device that measures in real-time how busy it is at a HWRC. Data can be communicated to a website or app. The visitor can thus avoid going to a HWRC when it is too busy/when there are queues and can choose a more convenient time.
Another advantage of Q-meter is that it can be used to collect data to improve the sequence of the skips at the HWRC, obtain insight about what the busy times and locations are, how many staff are needed at a certain time, etc. This system makes CA-management more data-driven and fits in a circular economy. The traffic flow can be improved by constructing a split-level HWRC based on requirements and data of Q-meter.
The HWRC of the Future
The future HWRC will at least have a re-use shop, a repair hub, a tool library and several studios for new initiatives contributing to a circular economy.
The future HWRC will be developing over the years and should be able to adapt to future needs as well. Therefore, a modular system that can be adapted easily is a must. A HWRC should also inspire and motivate residents to think circular and keep in mind the mantra reduce, re-use, recycle and if possible UPCYCLE.
Our behaviour and the choices we make are crucial. That is why creating awareness is also very important. An interesting option to do this is adding an ‘awareness centre’ to a HWRC, where schools and other visitors can learn how to contribute to a circular economy and will be inspired to follow a more sustainable lifestyle.
Decisionmakers, like councils and waste companies, should lead by example by keeping in mind that we have a responsibility towards future generations. This means only budget-driven short-term solutions (like cast in place solutions) can better be avoided, whereas investing in long term, modular and data-driven sustainable solutions should have preference.
The total costs of ownership should be leading when considering investments in new HWRCs. Should you wish to receive more information please feel free to visit our websites and/or follow our Modulo Béton UK LinkedIn.