Surveys by East Devon District Council showed that residents wanted to recycle more, particularly cardboard and plastic, and to produce less residual waste.
The council tasked SUEZ with extending the recycling service while reducing the frequency of residual waste collections from fortnightly to once every three weeks.
Given the sensitivity around domestic refuse collection services nationally and the unprecedented changes planned, the switchover required careful planning, trialling and collaboration between the council, SUEZ and the community.
Building on our strong relationship with the council, we developed a clear plan with the commitment of both partners. This involved collaborative working from the start, including a joint communications group, with the council taking the lead on communication design and management.
After careful planning involving all stakeholders, we launched a communications campaign to ensure that residents were made aware of changes and engaged throughout the trial and transition period.
The new collection system was trialled in two neighbourhoods for nine weeks – Feniton, a rural village, and a larger area in part of Exmouth – before being rolled out district-wide in two phases over four months.
The trial phase saw pockets of contamination affecting the quality of materials collected for reprocessing – as some residents put recycling materials in the wrong recycling containers.
Updated guidance was developed by the project team and communicated to residents as the council engaged with them in a variety of ways. For example, two media briefings supported by SUEZ were held, and almost 70 information events. Armed with promotional pull-up banners and leaflets, the council’s recycling team met thousands of residents face-to-face at supermarkets, libraries, schools parish/town council meetings, tenants meetings, festivals and fetes.
Eye-catching posters and striking communications pieces were produced and ‘we’re here to help’ became the campaign mantra. During the trials, many residents embraced the changes and we harnessed their infectious enthusiasm as they became our ‘recycling champions’. They openly shared their experiences which helped get our messages across to nervous residents. Their affirmation gave credibility to the new service and their message was both powerful and reassuring to those about to go through the roll-out. Our champions were photographed for letters and leaflets, for proactive press releases and we wrote website cameo articles about them which were reported positively by our media. They shaped the design of our new recycling sacks, trialling them at home. They even appeared on regional BBC news, fending off negative questions from journalists eager for the ‘bad news’ headline. The campaign, uniquely, became their campaign too.
These measures proved successful and the collection teams saw an improvement in the way materials were segregated.
The trials informed the procurement process and contract terms for an enhanced recycling service, support by restricted capacity for residual waste.
Feedback and monitoring by SUEZ and the council also spurred continuous improvement during the wider roll-out. This was managed by a joint control hub, using live data to inform decision-making, with support from four additional recycling advisors, appointed by the council for the operation.
Six weeks after the start of phase two, with the new service operating district-wide, the tonnage of recyclable materials was more than 47% up on the same time the year before.
SUEZ were collecting, on average, an extra 127.15 tonnes of recycling materials per week.
Recycling now represents 57% of total waste, whereas previously it only made up 43%. This improved level has remained consistent since the start of the trial.
Another environmental benefit – apart from the decreased amount of residual waste to be disposed of – is a more fuel-efficient collection service. We have optimised the routes of the new kerbside collection trucks and made full use of their capacity with additional waste streams being collected, meaning fewer trips, lower mileage and therefore less fuel is being used.
The reduction in residual waste tonnages will also cut the council’s annual costs so savings can be invested in other services. Value is recovered from Devon county’s waste, which goes to an energy-from-waste facility.
Reducing the frequency of waste collections can be controversial. However, in East Devon, the feedback from residents was overwhelmingly positive due to a well thought out and tightly managed communications plan led by the council.
As well as welcoming the opportunity to recycle a wider variety of materials at the kerbside, residents appreciate that they now need to make fewer trips to the household waste recycling centre.
The three-weekly collection service was the first in the UK to be rolled out by a local authority in collaboration with a waste management contractor.
Numerous local authorities across England contacted East Devon District Council for information and advice about the new service. The partnership has won multiple awards and its representatives shared the lessons with local authority recycling officers at the LARAC 2017 conference.