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Prizes for waste reduction

Source: Public Sector Executive Nov/Dec 2012

Amy Hirst talks to Vicki Purewal, head of challenge prize design at innovation charity Nesta, which has worked with the Government on ‘The Waste Reduction Challenge’ providing a £50,000 prize fund for the organisation with the best ideas for cutting waste and engaging communities.

Reducing waste is a priority for many of the public sector’s largest bodies and every local authority: but it is also something that communities can get involved in on a smaller scale, while still making a big difference.

Nesta, the UK’s independent innovation charity, is working with the Cabinet Office to identify the best ideas out there to reduce waste through its Waste Reduction Challenge, which has a £50,000 prize attached.

83 initial entrants have already been whittled down to 25, of whom around five will get up to £10,000 to develop their ideas further over six months from January 2013, with the final winner then getting the £50,000.

Vicki Purewal, head of challenge prize design at Nesta, told us: “The 25 we’ve picked have all got really high potential and at this stage it’s difficult to pick out which will be the best. We will select five who will be our finalists, who will then need to recruit people, to baseline their data and look at their focus.

“We’re building on the lessons that we learnt from a previous prize called ‘The Big Green Challenge’. That challenge was interesting because the innovations were being developed and won by people who were within the community that they were working in. The entrants developed a trusted relationship with their communities. People pay attention to those who are trusted and are recognised locally. From the point of view of raising awareness locally around a particular issue, the types of ideas that are in The Waste Reduction Challenge can also be quite effective.”

The shortlist contains a huge range of ideas, from a scheme making it easier to recycling household cooking oils, to an initiative making use of food from farms that can go to waste if it doesn’t quite make the supermarket’s grade (see box).

Nesta’s award criteria is that the winner will have the capacity to develop its idea and a willingness to share experiences, and that it will have an identifiable public benefit.

Defra estimates that around 600m tonnes of products and materials enter the UK economy each year and only 115m tonnes get recycled. Significant changes need to occur within businesses and households to reduce waste, Nesta says.

Purewal explained: “Our main aim is to reduce the levels of waste, but this is not about doing what you can in six months and then finishing the prize. We’ve got a criteria centred on sustainability.

“We collaborated with the Cabinet Office, who were interested in exploring the use of challenge prizes, which are good at getting people thinking in new ways about particular issues and trying to find new solutions.”

Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd MP said: “We’re backing the Waste Reduction Challenge Prize because everyone has a part to play in cutting down waste and rubbish.

“We want to find novel ideaswhich tackle this issue in a way that also brings communities closer together, and the ingenuity of the shortlisted projects is very promising.”

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