How the Met is policing its waste arisings

The Metropolitan Police is the UK's biggest police force and a leader when it comes to delivering arresting recovery operations, as Maxine Perella finds out

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is often under fierce scrutiny as an organisation for its operations on the frontline, but behind the scenes it is gaining an enviable reputation as one of the public sector's finest examples when it comes to environmental best practice.

Next month (November 2011) it will be awarded the prestigious Green Apple Award at the House of Commons, just the latest of several accolades it has received for its sustainability achievements. And when it comes to waste, the results speak for themselves.

This year (2010-11) MPS smashed its recycling and recovery target - reaching 77%, 13% points above the 60% figure set. And when you consider that roughly half of the waste it is responsible for (criminal waste) is outside of its control, that figure is even more impressive. That said, the organisation takes criminal waste very seriously as the items seized such as weapons and vehicles have great recovery value and are a handy revenue generator.

"There are obvious sensitivities around criminal waste and although we have less control over how it is generated, we closely control how it is disposed of or recovered," says MPS recycling officer Anna Gledhill. "There's a lot of metals in this waste stream, it has high value, but we have to make certain items such as knives or guns safe for handling before they go off-site."

The recycling of weaponry started in 2007 and raised around £2,000 for the MPS in 2008-9. Procedures are taken so that any item sent for recycling is no longer needed as evidence or as a judicial exhibit. Once made safe, the items are collected and sent to a local steel recycler to be melted down for reuse. In 2009, some 14 tonnes of guns, knives and keys were managed for reuse in this way - double the volume collected in 2008.

Gledhill says MPS is now looking into the secure disposal of mobile phones, and other items such as vehicles or certain exhibits can be auctioned off, again to raise money. Other metals such as lead, brass and aluminium from used bullets at the Met's firing range have also found a reuse outlet and are used to fashion photo frames and items of jewellery.

In terms of total revenue generated, MPS made £6.4m in total cost savings from its reuse and recycling activities across the organisation in 2009-10 - including avoided costs from landfill tax. And closed loop models are proving particularly popular - for instance, vehicle parts are being reused back into the Met's car fleet and the bio-diesel made from its used catering oil is fuelling its food supplier's transport operations.

Another smaller, but equally important material stream being recovered is horse manure and metal horse shoes from police stables - last year, stable waste accounted for around 2,300 of the 23,190 tonnes of total waste arisings at the Met. The manure is spread back onto the land and the metal from the horse shoes is melted down for reuse.

The main element of non-criminal waste that MPS deals with however is the general office waste arising from the organisation's 900 buildings and 50,000 employers - in 2010-11, this accounted for 8,330 tonnes. The Met has two main facilities management contractors - Balfour Beatty Workplace in North London (waste sub-contractor McGrath) and Interserve South London (waste sub-contractor Veolia). It also has a furniture contractor, Wagstaff, who partners with Waste to Wonder.

Waste prevention targets and action plans are built into these contracts, encouraging contractors to take a proactive approach, and this has resulted in some great initiatives such as reuse and refurbishment of prison cell blankets, riot shields and police uniforms. "We have monthly meetings with our contractors to make sure they're on track," says Gledhill. "We also regularly review the targets we set to ensure continual improvement."

Staff engagement is also a key issue - the Met has recruited 80 volunteers to act as environmental champions across its estate and to push home the recycling message to employees. Mixed recycling bins are being rolled out in a phased approach across the organisation, together with a 'Think Green' awareness campaign which aims to encourage better source-segregation. A toolkit is also being developed for the environmental champions which will contain a detailed resource guide on the different waste streams.

Looking forward, an aspiration to reach zero waste is a definite possibility and Gledhill says MPS intends to strengthen its focus on waste prevention and sustainable procurement to generate even more cost savings.

Maxine Perella is editor of edieWaste


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