Councils not reinvesting waste profits in recycling

Local authorities do not have the money to invest in recycling despite securing more lucrative waste contracts off the back of increased material prices.

The warning came from London Borough of Tower Hamlets’ service head for public realm Jamie Blake, who was speaking at a networking event on the circular economy hosted by LRS Consultancy in London yesterday (June 19).

Despite good recycling systems saving thousands of pounds for councils, Blake said the money was not being reinvested back into waste infrastructure. Instead, it is being swallowed up by local authority overarching cost saving targets.

While long-term material prices are predicted to rocket due to resource scarcity, in the short term local authorities are concerned that prices are set to go down.

“What will happen when these markets start to soften? It’s already starting to happen,” said Blake.

“We [Tower Hamlets] spend a lot of money on recycling. Even with the value of the materials having gone up, it’s got to at least double again before I break even on the collection costs. There’s no commercial company that’s going to come round and operate door to door collection.”

With increasingly difficult budget decisions being made by council, Blake asked: “What happens when the decision is between spending on adult social care or on recycling?”

He argued that a possible opportunity for local authorities was to extend services to the commercial waste sector, but again low material prices could be a barrier to this.

As a result, local authorities may be forced to change the way they run collections and this could open up the service to private operators, Blake warned.

“If we have to bring in compulsory recycling, if we have to go to pay-by-throw, where does that lead us and does that open up the market to the private sector to do something else?”

Edie staff

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