Web solution to a rubbish problem

Waist deep in waste? The Environment Council has launched a new interactive website which supplies information on current waste management issues and provides a forum for discussion of potential solutions. Beverly La Ferla reports.

Sustainable waste management is widely recognised as an important environmental issue. In 1999, London alone produced over three million tonnes of household waste of which 69 per cent was sent to landfill.

Now the Guide has been placed on the web, making it accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And, because the internet is interactive, it also brings together concerns, opinions and views from different stakeholder groups on a daily basis.

Planning procedures

Workshops were held with a selection of waste practitioners in the early stages of planning the Guide. These varied from waste management companies through to business, local authorities and non-governmental organisations to help define what these sorts of companies wanted in a waste management resource.

Key recommendations

The key recommendations were to:

  • provide solid definitions of sustainable waste management,

  • provide an insight into the major waste management issues for different types of stakeholders, and,

  • supply information on the management options available for waste, including new innovations and techniques.

Following the Guide’s publication, The Environment Council set out to determine the response of readers. A series of telephone interviews later highlighted the potential value of providing the information in the Guide in a freely available, easily accessible format, i.e. the internet.

The advantages of this transition were obvious and included the environmental benefits of reduced energy and resource use when compared to the printing and distribution of a hard-copy publication.

Funded by the RMC Environment Fund and in partnership with Waste Watch, SWAP and Bluewave, a website version of the Guide is now up and running at www.wasteguide.org.uk. On display is a comprehensive overview of issues facing stakeholders, up-to-date facts and figures, information on specific waste types and case studies of good practice in sustainable waste management.

There is also a full contacts directory of over 300 organisations involved in promoting sustainable waste management and hyperlinks to listed organisations for more information. A ‘Jargon Buster’ defines common waste acronyms and an A to Z dictionary describes the different types of waste. Also included is a keyword search facility for the entire site, and last but not least is the Waste Forum which stakeholders can use to debate waste related issues, explore management options and address potential solutions. A plethora of features which combine to offer the best advice for the management of waste.

Take London, for example. If the capital is to meet European Union directives on reducing waste send to landfill, developing a sustainable waste management plan for the city is absolutely necessary. And doing this in a way that involv-es the public from the beginning is the key to its success.

Stakeholder dialogue

The Environment Council believes that ‘Stakeholder Dialogue’ is the best way to make decisions on environmental issues. Defined, it is literally communication between the organisation in question and various stakeholders, whether they be customers, pressure groups, regulators or representatives from local communities.

Dialogue has three purposes: firstly to identify and avert problems before they arise, collaborate to alleviate sources of dispute, and finally clarify and resolve potential disputes. The overall aim is not to grind out an unsatisfactory compromise but rather to seek out common ground and reach a consensus for progress.

Stakeholders should never be regarded as troublemakers needing to be appeased, rather they are usually well-educated on the issues at hand and articulate with their opinions.

Consider the initial controversy over the introduction of genetically modified foods to the UK or the anger over the Brent Spar oil storage buoy. Such events show it is now unacceptable simply to announce major activities with far-reaching effects and then attempt to defend them.

Thus was born The Stakeholders’ Guide to Sustainable Waste Management to promote Stakeholder Dialogue as an integral part of the decision-making process. Its transfer to the web has increased its potential spread to a wider audience, giving anyone and everyone the opportunity to access free advice on waste management issues.

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