The APSE Refuse, Recycling and Streetscene Seminar proved once again to be a great barometer on where we are as a sector. For us, it has always been one of our most important events of the year, as it brings together both the waste collection and street cleansing sides of the industry and showcases how different local authorities are tackling issues.
Below are our key takeaways from this year’s seminar:
Covid has cost councils a lot of money, and what this will mean remains unclear.
As Paul O’Brien from APSE described, the cost of Covid for local councils has been huge. With the additional costs incurred, added to the loss of income and the loss of local tax, the estimate is an overall cost to local government of £10.9 Billion. And this comes in the context of local government funding at its lowest as a share of GDP for the last 50 years.
So, while the public remains supportive of increases in public funding being channelled towards local issues, what financial support will be available remains unclear. The era of more for less seems set to stay. And as such, the ability to innovate and deliver change will be more important than ever.
The public remain very supportive of refuse and streetscene services.
It has obviously been an unprecedented year for everyone, and there’s no doubting the waste and environmental sector has certainly been on the front line. As the seminar agreed, the response to the pandemic by councils has been exemplary and the public remain very supportive of refuse and streetscene services.
This support comes from two sources. First is the connection between waste and recycling and climate change , which remains high on the public’s list of concerns. Secondly is a new found recognition of the operational challenge of delivering these services, heightened by the way in which local authorities have coped with the Covid disruption.
Rapid changes in society have led to changing awareness and behaviours.
While waste and recycling remains important, some interesting results from Trewin Restorick at Hubbub showed how this year has changed some people’s priorities. As people have spent more time at home and more time cooking, concern for food waste has rocketed (indeed 48% of people say they are wasting less food), while worries about plastics has quietly fallen.
Increasing public awareness of food waste can only be a good thing in helping improve participation, which in turn can drive efficiency. Getting food waste out of the residual stream is an important driver for local authorities in being able to successfully change the frequency of refuse collection. For our round design business, food waste collections continues to be an issue local authorities want to tackle.
Innovation continues, despite the operational challenges
We were pleased to be able to contribute some of our stories around how our customers have successfully carried on innovating through this difficult year, and how technology is helping councils to both prepare for and manage change, and automate and optimise day-to-day processes and tasks.
It was also great to see that longer term initiatives like alternative fuels and underground refuse systems are progressing at pace, alongside shorter term focuses like litter, street cleansing and recycling. In our view, the ability to deliver change in the short term, while having a strategic view of how to join up all the pieces seems to be one of the key success factors we see in a council’s ability to deliver innovation and transformation.
Change is the new constant
One of the things we mentioned in our session at the seminar was that we see that while performance and efficiency have remained as constants in the priority list for local authorities, risk and resilience have understandably increased in focus. Alongside these changing requirements, is the changing strategy landscape of landfill bans and the national waste strategy.
But another of Hubbub’s findings is perhaps the most important of all. They have found that only 12% of people want life to return to exactly as it was before lockdown, which means many of the changes we have seen to people’s behaviours, attitudes and priorities may be here to stay.
We came away from this year’s seminar encouraged by the sectors willingness to innovate and confident in the fact that our solutions should be well placed to help.