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Improving waste management could save councils millions

Councils could save £464m on waste management spending if they all implemented the measures already in place in the best-performing areas, the Audit Commission says. 

However, figures from the ‘Local authority waste management: Using data from the Value for Money (VFM) Profiles’, shows that spending on waste managed by councils have reduced nationally since 2009/10. 

Jeremy Newman, chairman of the Audit Commission, said: “It’s good news that local authorities have reduced their spending on household waste by £46m over the past four years and have reduced levels of waste sent to landfill. 

“Councils have achieved these important improvements by working with local people and exercising choice about what works best in their own circumstances.” 

The Audit Commission highlighted there is a “hierarchy” of five steps for dealing with waste, ranked according to the environmental impact of each option. Preventing the creation of waste is the ideal option with the best environmental outcome. When waste cannot be avoided, the waste hierarchy gives priority to preparing it for re-use, then recycling, then recovery and last of all disposal to landfill. 

Although recycling has increased, the rate is variable across the country. Newman said: “In 2012/13 local authorities spent a fifth of their total expenditure on the most desirable option for household waste management: minimisation and recycling. They spent the other four-fifths on the collection and disposal of waste – the least desirable options.” 

The average spending on household waste management also varied between local authorities with similar responsibilities. Most authorities that both collect and dispose of waste (58%) spent between £125 and £175 per household in 2012/13. Nearly 30% spent more than £175 and 13% spent more than £200 per household. 

Currently 359 local authorities in England have waste management responsibilities: 236 are responsible for only waste collection, 27 for only disposal, 90 for combined collection and disposal. There are also six statutory waste disposal authorities in England. 

The Local Government Association (LGA), not in direct response to the Audit Commission’s report, is however calling on the nation to join in a new “reuse drive” that can save taxpayers millions, help support local causes, and prevent unnecessary use of the country's landfill sites. 

Following the publication of its own report, the LGA stated that “even in these times of austerity, households are binning far too many perfectly serviceable goods worth over £400m every year”. 

The report of the LGA's Reuse Commission revealed that almost 615,000 tonnes of material is currently disposed of in England, even though it has the potential to be reused each year. It has also been estimated that this could equate to a £60m saving to council tax payers, worth £3 a household, through diverting waste from landfill. 

Additionally, the research claims that the sale of textiles that could be reused may be worth up to £143m, and the resale of reusable Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) could have a value of up to £231m per year. In total there could be up to £435m of value through reuse available each year to local authorities, claimed the LGA. 

Launching the report, Cllr Mike Jones, chair of the LGA's Environment and Housing Board, said: “Every year, a mountain of televisions, kettles, furniture and other items are thrown away, even though they are not broken and could be re-used. We're calling for councils and consumers to join together to find new homes for these goods, which will not only save taxpayers money, but reduce the amount of waste unnecessarily sent to landfill.” 

He added that landfilling is “expensive” and the cost of disposing of unwanted, but reusable, items is £90m, “money which could be saved from our council tax bills”. 

The report highlights a range of methods and best practice in reuse including eBay, Freecycle, local projects, charities and social enterprises as well as informal arrangements between residents. 

Councillor Clyde Loakes, chair of the LGA's Reuse Commission, added: “Government, councils, the waste industry and voluntary groups need to work together with consumers to highlight the potential of reuse. We want to see a vibrant reuse culture which provides jobs, training and value to our society and economy and which puts money in taxpayers' pockets.” 

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