Effective waste prevention strategies for the public sector

Following our recent webinar, ‘Effective waste prevention strategies for the public sector’, Niamh Yates, Communications Intern at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, shares her insights and key takeaways from the session.

In our latest webinar, chaired by Dr Adam Read, our panel of industry experts Sarahjane Widdowson from Intelisos, Steve Palfrey from Suffolk County Council, and Karen Marks from City of London discussed a SUEZ commissioned waste prevention toolkit. During the webinar the panel explored how the toolkit could support local government waste management and climate change priorities, whilst gaining feedback on the toolkit’s case studies, layout and functionality, prior to its launch at RWM in September 2023.


What is the toolkit?

While increasing recycling rates has long been a goal for the UK government and local councils, waste prevention has often been far down the list in terms of waste management policy priorities.

In response to this, SUEZ has commissioned a new waste prevention toolkit for local authorities to help drive change in the absence of policy. The toolkit aims to help local authorities make informed decisions about possible interventions, campaigns, messaging, and service changes to aid waste prevention.

The toolkit builds upon the Stuff of Life report that SUEZ launched last year which identifies opportunities for reducing consumption and preventing waste at home. The report also provides examples of activities undertaken by local authorities to drive down waste arising from day-to-day activities.

As a follow up to the report and based on feedback from our customers, SUEZ commissioned the upcoming toolkit, to give further guidance to local authorities on how they can move towards waste prevention.

The new toolkit is structured by department rather than looking at one specific service area. It contains information that can be tailored to local authorities to achieve specific goals, as each council has different circumstances to consider. The toolkit also includes example case studies from successful waste prevention policies across the country, such as black bin charges in Swansea for example.

Although the report gives recommendations on waste prevention, it’s important to consider that there may still be hurdles to overcome when implementing these changes. For example, it’s challenging to convince councils that waste prevention will pay for itself when the highlighted case studies are on a relatively small scale. This led to the first poll we put to the audience, ‘Do you think your local authority will be focusing on waste prevention in the near future?’.

Seventy-four percent said ‘Yes’ linking it to reduced costs and addressing climate concerns, whilst 24% answered ‘No’ citing focus on recycling and lack of funding as factors contributing to this. The panel’s reaction was positive as this provides us all with some real hope that in future, waste prevention will become a bigger priority for local councils and thus national government.


What did our panellists say about the toolkit?

Steve welcomed the toolkit and how it focuses on action across multiple departments rather than simply a handful of people in the environmental team, for example. Steve emphasised the importance of changing behaviour towards waste and suggests that council’s need to make doing the right thing easier. Appealing to many people is essential to reducing waste, articulating not just the environmental, but also the economic benefits of making these changes.

Karen explained that the toolkit resonates with her work too, although many of the case studies are not geared towards an urban environment such as the City of London where communal living is common. This feedback is key as the final toolkit is refined.


Feedback from the audience

Adam went on to ask the audience, ‘What are the priorities for your local authority when selecting a waste prevention activity or intervention?’.

The results of the poll were very clear, with the majority (61%) responding that tonnage diversion is paramount before carbon savings (21%) or community benefit (16%). Sarahjane explained that this is a clear steer for topics to add into the toolkit, however, tonnage diversion is difficult to measure and there are limited examples out there with robust data that are willing to be included.

Following on from this, the next poll put to the audience was, ‘When creating a business case for a waste prevention activity, what criteria is essential to include?’. The audience could select multiple options for this.  

The consensus among the respondents was that cost is the most important part of a business case (79%), whilst carbon savings (65%), and return on investment (64%) were also important. While 52% voted for staff resources and 45% for social value as criteria for building the business case.

The next poll asked the audience, ‘What is the primary way you think you’d use the toolkit?’.

There was a clear preference for using the toolkit to help generate ideas (53%) and the toolkit contains many great examples of interventions and activities that could be adapted to suit local conditions.

Finally, the audience were asked ‘What sort of format should the toolkit have?’

The majority voted for an online tool (46%), with 16% favouring an excel spreadsheet and 38% did not mind. Sarahjane was confident we could meet market demands and expectations ensuring the toolkit gets put to good use once launched.


Ask the Panel

The consensus among the audience was that behavioural change is the way forward. One question from an audience member asked; how do you change behaviour when it is not statutory requirement, and is rarely something that you can get a budget for?

Steve answered explaining that at the local level, it is important to emphasise that these changes will save councils more overall. Leading with an evidence-based approach helps that, and case studies from the toolkit will hopefully go a long way in showing the benefits of waste prevention.


What’s next?

SUEZ is looking forward to publishing the toolkit at RWM in September and making it widely available to those working in and with local authorities across the UK.

It sounds like exciting times are ahead for waste prevention in the public sector as we look to decarbonise, increase resource efficiency, and cut costs. I enjoyed learning about many of the activities and interventions showcased in the toolkit and can’t wait to see other authorities embracing the opportunities in the coming months to drive down residual waste, reduce consumption and increase their circularity.

You can watch the full webinar session ‘Effective waste prevention strategies for the public sector’ here.