Towards Sustainable Waste Management Practice
SR(02)05 A&B

April 2002


1. Introduction

SNIFFER commissioned this research into Sustainable Waste Management Practice in the UK. This study has been undertaken jointly by ECOTEC Research and Consulting, Eunomia Research & Consulting, and MEL Research, and was completed in April 2002.

2. Objectives

The objectives of the study were to:

The study aims to provide prompts, and stimulate thinking, amongst waste managers in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

3. Approach

The study has been addressed as an international literature review and a series of case studies.

4.Key lessons

The key lessons from the overall study are set out below.

5. Positive Thinking And Developing Sustainable Waste Management

Given these key lessons, the question remains as to why waste management practice in the UK has remained rooted in a 'disposal paradigm' for so long.

Sustainable waste management practices do not spontaneously emerge in the absence of deliberate actions to develop them. Hence, the rather unsustainable nature of waste management might be explained less by 'barriers', and more by a lack of serious attempts to develop the regulatory and incentive structure required to bring forward the necessary infrastructure. Put bluntly, people will not change their behaviour in positive ways if the only form of behaviour requested of them is to 'throw rubbish in the bin'. Nor will local authorities be encouraged to pursue actions which facilitate, or support, alternative behaviours when, faced with financial constraints, collecting and landfilling waste is the cheapest option.

The challenge now facing Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the whole of the UK, is to put in place an enabling framework in which local authorities are encouraged to design convenient schemes for source separation of materials. Ideally, there are incentives for local authorities to do this, and mechanisms designed to encourage householder participation. There must be serious attempts made to turn the hitherto slow rate of development in Scotland and Northern Ireland to the advantage of those designing collection schemes. This can only happen if attempts are made to learn from experience elsewhere and to adapt and apply these lessons to local situations as they arise in Scotland and Northern Ireland. None of this is to say that the transition to more sustainable waste management will be entirely straightforward. It would be wrong, however, to say:

In many ways, the choices are rather simple. Furthermore, they are increasingly 'not choices' since they are implied, or may be implied, by the implementation of existing and proposed Directives which are, to a significant degree, driving the change now underway. The key now is to ensure not 'compliance for compliance sake', but that in implementing sustainable waste management systems, compliance with the various Directives now in place (and emerging) arises as a more-or-less natural consequence of the pursuit of suitable strategies.

Remaining constraints relate to budgets and to the will to change existing waste collection systems, as well as how materials arising will be dealt with after collection. Initiatives already underway seem likely to be helpful in both respects, though just how successful market development initiatives are in maintaining, or even enhancing materials prices remains to be seen. Efficient use of funds will be important.

But there is nothing to suggest that the culture of Northern Ireland and Scotland precludes the changes foreseen. On the contrary, the changes foreseen will shape culture at least as much as culture determines the manner in which the changes proceed. Commitment and well-thought-out collection strategies, designed to be convenient to users, will engender positive change.

Some pointers and ideas for further development are given in the accompanying case study document [SR(02)05B].

KEY WORDS: Waste; Resources; Waste Management; Municipal Waste; Household Waste; Waste Minimisation; Recycling; Composting; Household Hazardous Waste; Sustainable Waste Management; Source Separation; Economic Instruments; Behavioural Change; Variable Charging; Direct Charging; Deposit Refund.

Copies of these reports are available from the Foundation - SR(02)05A (Overview Report) price 35.00 and SR(02)05B (Case Study Report) price 50.00, less 20% to FWR members