Location, location: how to optimise waste management?

Let us be honest about it. Very few of us want a hulking new waste facility dropped in our backyard.


We may be advised by the industry that we desperately need this infrastructure, and the truth is that we probably do, but still…we’d rather it was sited somewhere else, preferably miles away in another county.

It’s a hurdle that the waste industry comes up against each time that it submits a planning application. To compound matters, public opposition to new developments has been given a new lease of life thanks to localism. But while the Government may prefer to take a hands-off approach, there is arguably a need for it to play a far more engaged role.

Earlier this week I visited Professor Stephen Smith from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College, London who put a very compelling case forward for a national waste strategy plan and a feasibility study to underpin it. 

As Professor Smith argues, the waste industry, with its background in logistics, overseas the movement of waste and recycling nationally, and that means it has a pretty firm idea about where best to site new facilities.   

The problem lies with the local authority contracts that are offered and where these are located geographically. The fact that councils are regionally-based means that decisions are being made in an almost arbitrary way with very little consideration for the bigger picture.  

This is isn’t intended to bash councils over the head. Clearly, strapped-for-cash local authorities are doing a stellar job but as Professor Smith argues, taking a broader-based national overview of waste as a resource would overcome the trans-boundary barriers that operate across local authorities and hopefully increase co-operation across boundaries.  

He says that the feasibility of a national approach should be considered. In a nutshell, this would be a simple socio-economic, technical and geographical appraisal of what wastes are produced where and how they are managed. A GIS model could be produced to look at the optimisation of waste management and highlight the most appropriate locations for new facilities.

This would surely give the Government a greater steer on waste and help shape policy so that waste and recycling is managed more effectively.

Nick Warburton

Topics: Waste & resource management
Tags: | Infrastructure | localism | planning | waste management
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