Councils encouraged to buy recycled for quick win

Local authorities could take a significant step towards meeting their sustainability targets by simply switching to suppliers who provide recycled materials.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has published new guidance for councils to help promote a more eco-friendly resource management.

"Councils could be missing out on very simple ways to dramatically improve resource efficiency at no extra cost across a range of procurement activities, as well as overlooking significant potential cost savings in some cases," said WRAP's procurement programme manager David Moon.

Developed by WRAP, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS), the guidance is targeted at councillors in England with responsibility for scrutiny, sustainability or procurement.

It provides advice on how councillors can shape procurement strategy to be more sustainable at no extra cost and offers practical examples of how to improve resource efficiency by specifying higher recycled content in goods, works and services.

"Specifying recycled is an effective quick win," said Mr Moon.

"It enables councils to measure and improve their contribution to sustainable development, stimulate local and regional markets for recycled materials, and increase the value of the recyclables collected by local authorities."

The focus of the guidance is on construction, highways maintenance, estates management and printed materials and provides real-life examples of the benefits of specifying recycled.

Among the case studies and suggestions in the guide are:

  • 16-17% of the value of materials used in exemplar designs for secondary schools is derived from recycled content at standard practice - using 400-500 tonnes of material that might otherwise have gone to landfill. However, using alternative products and specifications currently available at no extra cost could increase this figure to 18-22% and divert a further 3,000-4,000 tonnes from landfill.

  • Essex County Council has agreed targets for the use of recycled content with its highways contractor. In financial year 2002/03, 59% of material was recycled against a target of 20%, which enabled savings of £150,000. This money was used to deliver extra maintenance projects.

  • 1,500 plastic bottles are used to make every 1.5m of recycled plastic walkway. This product has proven highly durable and slip-resistant in wet areas, such as nature reserves. High-performing kerbside collection schemes typically generate 100-200 plastic bottles per household per year.

  • At least two local authority buying consortia in the UK have been able to provide recycled copying papers at the same price as equivalent virgin papers.

    Good Practice Guide: Procurement and the efficient use of material resources is available on the WRAP website.

    Additional versions written specifically for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be available shortly.

    By Sam Bond

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