Long-term local authority waste contracts may need to be renegotiated if measures set out in the government’s Waste and Resources Strategy are successful, a senior public sector official has advised.
Ian Fielding, chair of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) waste group, made the comments to MPs on Monday (11 June), and said that this could potentially come at a cost to councils.
Mr Fielding was questioned as part of the second evidence session of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry into the implications of the Resources and Waste Strategy for authorities.
The committee, which is chaired by Labour’s Clive Betts, also heard evidence from Gurbaksh Badhan of NAWDO, Lee Marshall of LARAC and Cathy Cook of LWARB.
MPs probed the group on the potential impact of measures to improve consistency of recycling and waste collections among councils, as well as the potential impact of a deposit return scheme and the possible introduction of an incineration tax.
The Strategy includes policy proposals such as a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and the introduction of weekly food waste collections for households across England. It is thought that these measures may come at a cost to councils in lost revenue for recyclables, in the case of a DRS, as well as set up and running costs for food waste collections.
“We estimate that something like 60 or so local authorities are involved in long term contracts. Most of those facilities will have been designed and built and are operating on an assumption of the feedstock they will receive, whether that is an energy from waste plant, [or] whether it is a mechanical biological treatment plant.”Ian Fielding
Commenting on the possible impact that the Resources and Waste Strategy could have on existing council contracts, Mr Fielding said that councils tied-in to long term arrangements for waste could be forced into renegotiating deals if there is likely to be a material difference in the waste they are producing.
He said: “We estimate that something like 60 or so local authorities are involved in long term contracts. Most of those facilities will have been designed and built and are operating on an assumption of the feedstock they will receive, whether that is an energy from waste plant, [or] whether it is a mechanical biological treatment plant. The investment will have been made on the assumption of a feedstock of a particular character.
“Some of those contracts will also include recycling within them, the proposals are likely to affect that feedstock, they will alter the amount of recyclate going to that treatment plant and the biological material going to that plant. There is a question that we have to ask: ‘do we want to turn an investment into something that is running sub-optimally, [with] the financial implications that will almost certainly flow back to the local authority clients?’
Mr Fielding commented that any change in the way that council waste services are funded, for example through an extended producer responsibility regime, which would see producers of goods pay for a higher portion of the cost of the collection and recycling of their products, should account for any potential contractual issues for councils.
Questioned about the government’s proposals to encourage consistency of recycling collections between authorities, LARAC chief executive Lee Marshall commented that local authority recycling systems are ‘already more consistent than people give credit for’.
He said: “In terms of consistency what we have seen over the past few years and what could improve is the consistency of the opportunity to recycle. That is the materials. It doesn’t necessarily have to be collected in the same manner and in exactly the same [type of] container, as long as everyone has got access to be able to recycle the same materials.
“Actually it is probably already more consistent than people give it credit for. Nearly all local authorities paper and card, cans, plastic bottles at the kerbside, over 75% collect pots, tubs and trays, so we are actually more consistent. We have perhaps lost sight sometimes when we talk about people not being able to recycle certain things, of how far we have come over the last ten years.”