FCC, the Spanish environment, infrastructure and water group, commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to conduct the major research project entitled ‘Urban Infrastructure insights 2015’.

More than 400 urban and infrastructure policymakers and business executives across the world were interviewed about the state of global urban infrastructure and services, and how city leaders can engage with citizens and service providers to secure support and investment for these projects.

Despite a pressing need for maintenance and upgrades to often ageing services such as waste collection, treatment and recycling and sewers, the research revealed that the value of “hidden infrastructure” is more often only recognised by city leaders.

Around 52% of those surveyed, agree that transport metro and railway infrastructure should be a priority for city leaders. In contrast, only 14.9% wanted waste treatment and recycling to be given priority and only 9.3% valued waste collection.

Resource management firm FCC Environment is the UK arm of FCC. Speaking to edie.net, FCC Environment sales and marketing director Kristian Dales said that waste was “relatively invisible” to the public because unlike water and energy, the public “do not really have a waste bill”. Waste is paid via council tax and the public “does not associate the cost with the benefit”, according to Dales.

He added: “Householders do not state ‘how much will I pay for my waste?’. The invisible nature of the waste bill means that people are less engaged with it.”

He explained: “The main point that jumped out for me in the report is that the issues in England are no different from the issues across the globe”.

‘Cinderella of utilities’
When asked if waste was the ‘Cinderella’ of the utilities, Dale said “yes”. He said: “If you look at your Cinderella analogy in terms of road and transport being the stepmother, it is streets ahead in its relation to its importance to UK plc and the growth to our economy. It gets a lot of column inches and people are very aware about it. Some people hate or love the topic but at least it is discussed.

“Then you look at energy – everyone looks at their energy bills at the moment. From the media’s perspective, the cost of the living crisis and energy bills tend to go hand-in-hand. Water is doing the same.”

He said waste was like the “fourth utility” and still “classed as a public service” because of the way “waste is charged out to the public”.

“If your water still formed part of your council tax, would people still be interested in their water bill? Probably not!”

Dales said that highlighting the value of the waste market in the production of green energy and linking this to energy security issues in the UK could help raise the profile of waste. He also said that “Government policy that provides stability for the energy market would allow for further investment in infrastructure”.

He explained: “If a policy is in place then industry gets the confidence to build infrastructure, infrastructure comes with awareness and then awareness leads to further education to the consumer.”

In the report, FCC state: “It is imperative that city leaders win public support for recycling and better waste management solutions, if they want to reduce their environmental impact and vulnerability.”

Liz Gyekye

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