Waste management is rather magical for most people. No matter what they throw out, as long as it fits in the bins, disappears each week. But of course it doesn’t disappear, it just becomes someone else’s problem. We shift the waste into our countryside or we truck it to incinerators or ship it overseas.
This gives residents a false impression that the problem is dealt with, but of course it isn’t. It’s in someone else’s back yard or in the air they breathe. As a developed, modern society there is no need for us to be doing this – we have the skills and technology to make better use of nearly all our ‘waste’ and to do so locally.
Brighton & Hove’s municipal waste strategy is one part of how we can achieve such a vision. Well it could have been if the Conservatives weren’t in control. What we had was a worthy but overall weak and unambitious strategy. I accept that commercial waste is beyond the council’s legal responsibility, and this makes up a huge amount of the total waste mountain. However as the political leadership for the city, as the largest employer and as the municipal waste authority we have a huge opportunity to show leadership on waste issues, locally and nationally. We’re a forward looking city, I know residents would support such an approach.
I’ve covered this ground many times before but it really is disappointing that not even a food waste collection pilot is on the immediate cards. Below are my comments on the final draft of the strategy. There’s lots of hard work in there, and plenty of worthy ideas, just no big picture ambitious vision.
This important strategy is very welcome, a strategic take on our waste challenges is vital. I suppose we must say better late than never given how long we’ve been waiting for this.
As I’ve said previously, the targets continue to lack ambition, they not only come in below national targets, but they also defer large increases in recycling rates until the more distant future: A 2.8 % point increase in the current period then an 8 % point increase targeted for the following 2 years. National targets look for more steady progress rather than spurts of improvement. The Sustainability Appraisal echoes these concerns and refers to a review of targets in 2011, when will we learn more of this review?
I must note that Greens remain opposed to the notion of incineration of waste at Newhaven and we are disappointed that this strategy schedules so much waste to go there.
There are lots of good ideas in this report, like the food waste reduction campaign with the Food Partnership; promoting online re-use schemes; a very important trade waste analysis and toy recycling. I warmly welcome the proposed trial of communal recycling and a study to better understand the challenges faced by city centre residents. The report notes that where waste is contained, recycling improves. Communal bins are totally uncontained and are a serious problem for addressing waste reduction.
I’m delighted the garden waste collection scheme may yet come forward as many including the Older Peoples’ Council and Greens have long been calling for such a scheme. I look forward to a positive outcome.
Food waste is a key issue, given that it makes up 35% of our municipal waste. The strategy’s arguments on this issue are somewhat circular. Page 21 says a reason for not pursuing food waste collections is that refuse collections are weekly. Page 25 then says that weekly collections will be maintained because food waste collections are not being planned. Which is it? What’s the problem? Food waste collection or weekly collections?
Many other authorities have solved these problems. Ultimately section 8 on residual waste seems to dodge around the critical issues a waste strategy needs to tackle. We should be leading on these matters, not waiting to follow others. Fortnightly collections are immaterial in the city centre where communal bins are emptied almost daily. We need to be piloting a full range of approaches to understand what works. Communications and enforcement campaigns have had limited success thus far and I’m sorry to say will not alone get our waste levels to where they need to be.
So, in closing, I welcome the ideas, studies and pilots proposed in this strategy. But overall it is a missed opportunity which I fear won’t make the progress on waste reduction we need to. I congratulate the Environment Directorate officers who have obviously worked very hard on this, the background documents are impressive pieces of work. Sadly the political leadership to tackle waste in this city doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from this administration. Perhaps next year’s review of targets will provide an opportunity for this council to up its game?