Efficient and effective collections

Lee Marshall, policy and external affairs director at CIWM, explains some of the recent waste management headlines and what effect changes will have.

Waste collection services have been having their moment in the spotlight this autumn. First, we had the Prime Minster scrapping a ‘seven bin’ policy that had never been implemented
or indeed planned. Then, on the back of this, the Government made the long-awaited announcement about the 2021 Consistent Collections consultation, now rebadged as Simpler Recycling.

The Simpler Recycling proposals mean that every local authority in England will have to collect a core set of materials, including food waste, glass, plastics, and cans. How they collect them is up to each local authority, but food waste will have to be collected weekly. The funding for food waste collections will come through Government funding and elements of the dry recycling materials (glass, cans, etc.) will be funded through payments from the producers of packaging via another government policy called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Waste Management

EPR is aimed at making packaging more environmentally friendly and easier to recycle. To encourage producers to do this, the policy makes them responsible for the “full net cost” of their product, including when it comes to the end of its life. Producers will pay funds into a central pot based on how much packaging they produce and how easy it is to recycle. That pot will then be distributed to local authorities to increase recycling of packaging.

However, local authorities will not receive funding for their actual costs, but rather for a modelled cost based on an “efficient and effective service”. Defra have not outlined what their definition of “efficient and effective” is yet, but it will be key to determining how much funding an authority receives. It is likely it will take into account the geographic and socio- economic characteristics of a local authority area, as well as how recycling is collected.

Which collection system works best for a local authority will be impacted by a number
of factors. When deciding which system to use, councils will normally undertake some sort of options appraisal where different collection systems are modelled against each other to produce indicative costs, against which a decision can be made. But once that system is implemented, how do you ensure it is the most efficient it can be whilst delivering high levels of recycling?


One way of creating efficiencies is to collect things less frequently. This is a practice many local authorities have adopted, and it tends to be residual waste that is collected fortnightly (or even three-weekly) instead of weekly. Not only does this mean fewer vehicles and crews, but it also helps push recycling rates up. With less residual waste volume, residents think more about which container they put their waste in.

There are now several authorities in Wales and some in England with three-weekly residual collections, and all evidence shows they support high recycling rates. However, the government has indicated that they intend to include a maximum collection frequency of fortnightly for residual waste when they produce statutory guidance on Simpler Recycling for local authorities.

Another tool that councils have adopted is the use of route planning or route optimisation software packages.

There are several packages available, and many come with consultancy support. With collection vehicles not being renowned for their fuel economy, the software calculates the best collection routes to minimise the number of vehicles needed and miles travelled. It is common to use such software when a new service is first implemented, but it is also worth using again part way through a contract once the rounds have bedded in and the tonnages being produced are clearer.

There are normally some imbalances in round sizes that, if ironed out, may reduce the overall number of vehicles used.

Sticking with vehicles, there has also been a greater focus on fuel efficiency and monitoring this through telematics software. The data it collects can be used to evaluate driver behaviour and develop training to help operators drive in ways that conserve fuel. This potentially leads to better fuel efficiency and less wear and tear on vehicles, resulting in lower repair costs as well as a reduction in fuel bills.

Compactors & balers

With more recycling being collected as a result of Simpler Recycling and EPR, there is likely to be a need for more bulking and transferring of waste. In terms of making the process more efficient, the use of balers or compactors can be worth considering, especially if a local authority has suitable depot space. Baling recyclable waste before it is transported will increase the load on each vehicle, resulting in fewer vehicles being required and therefore less cost. Compactors can also be used in a similar way. This can also reduce the amount of space needed for storage of materials prior to transport.

Although not as widely used by local authorities, some have tried double shifts, increasing the hours that a vehicle is utilised during a working day, sweating the asset. This type of working pattern and operation is not something councils have traditionally used, but after years of austerity cuts and a need to make every penny count, such “new” practices may need to be considered.

Once we have confirmation of what “efficient and effective” means in relation to EPR and the funding it results in, some councils may need to look at these sorts of interventions. It is likely that some authorities will find that EPR funding does not cover all actual costs related to the collection of packaging. Whilst they will be still be getting new funding, the desire to make it go as far as possible will mean that the way a service is designed and delivered will need to be reviewed.

We may have to wait a while for this, as initial indications from Defra are that EPR funding levels will not be known until November next year. This will put pressure on local authorities as the core set of materials under Simpler Recycling have to start being collected by March 2026 at the latest. That only gives an 18-month lead-in time from knowing the full funding picture. With lots of local authorities potentially going to market at the same time for new collection contracts, there could be a log jam, or some local authorities may find themselves with no bidders. Undertaking soft market testing may be one of the most effective ways in getting value for money for your waste service. This will help you shape a tender that is attractive to bidders and is framed in a way which means they want to bid. More bidders mean more competitive prices.

It all means that waste management services are likely to go through some major changes over the next two to three years. Anything that can be done to minimise costs, and maximise the available funding, will help local authorities to ensure they have efficient and effective services going forward.

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