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Not a throwaway issue

Viewpoint - We need to tell the public that dealing with waste is an expensive business

It is great to see waste moving up the public agenda and becoming a matter of national debate.

The popular press has started to pick up on the issue and it even merited four items on BBC Breakfast the other morning. Unfortunately, the press also tends to look for the negative points of what we in the industry are trying to do, particularly the controversial introduction of Alternate Weekly Collection (AWC).

All the evidence to date has indicated a general acceptance of AWC and increased levels of recycling. But there have been venomous objections from some quarters, with stories of rats, maggots and rotting nappies. The public is quite reasonably asking: 'Why do I have to separate my waste one way while in the next district they do it another way? I am already paying for a weekly waste collection, so why can't I have it?' We must make the public aware that the collected waste and recyclables have to go somewhere. Food and green waste need to go to compost facilities and dry materials need to go to sorting and processing plants, but they do not always exist. The facilities owned by each local authority dictate what they can collect from the kerbside.

Where I live in south Somerset the council has an invessel composting facility that recycles kitchen waste. So although there is an AWC for residual waste, the green waste recycling service can take away most of the nasties that can cause bad smells or attract maggots. But it is not the same everywhere.

The lack of waste infrastructure has been an area that the ICE has been highlighting for some years. The delivery of this infrastructure is frequently held up by local planning issues and the inability of councils to afford the facilities required.

What people pay for in waste collection and treatment is also an area we need to highlight. In the UK we have been fortunate in that it has been relatively cheap to bury waste. But landfill tax is rising and segregated collection systems and treatment plants are expensive.

Separating waste on the doorstep is not just about being green but saving money. The tax bill for waste is only going to increase, but it will be less expensive if people reduce the waste they produce and recycle as much as they can - local authorities can sell on recyclables and the revenue can be used to offset the increasing cost of treatment and disposal.

Finally, those blessed bins.

Brown, blue, green and black, they can not only be an eyesore but where do we keep them from one week to another? For those who do not live in leafy suburbs this can be a real problem. But new city developments must make adequate storage available.

Professional bodies must work harder to make waste management easier for communities in which we live by providing clearer guidance, more infrastructure and better local planning. But most important, waste management is not just about being green, it has a cost element that only the community can pay.

Nigel Mattravers MICE MCIWM is associate director of Grant Thornton Project Finance and chairman of the Waste & Resources Management Board

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