BLUEPRINT Model - Waste management

Summary notes

This page aims to provide insight and inspiration from the BLUEPRINT to a Circular Economy Project (BLUEPRINT Project) and industry leading organisations. Its objective is to support local authority waste management officers to take steps to become more circular. This page will:

  • Outline the role of local authority waste management in a circular economy.
  • Provide an overview of how systems differ in England and France.
  • Share insight into various BLUEPRINT Project reports such as the waste reduction potential of six product and material categories in England and France.
  • Identify the role of policies, strategies and plans in waste management that support a more circular economy.
  • Share learning on how circular economy principles were considered throughout a waste strategy development.
  • Detail how collaboration and partnerships can amplify circular economy opportunities.
  • Summarise data analysis, monitoring and evaluation recommendations.

Introduction

When considering where to start with embedding the circular economy in a local authority context, waste management is often top of the list. While the circular economy is by no means the sole responsibility of waste managers, it is clearly a significant area of opportunity. The aim is to adopt more circular practices, design services that make doing the right thing as easy as possible, and shift attitudes and behaviours away from the consumption of products and materials, and towards keeping products and materials in use for longer.  

Local authorities are already under pressure to drive down waste arisings to reduce both the environmental and budget cost of waste management. Population growth in England and France coupled with decreasing budgets means innovative solutions are being sought. As part of The Paris Agreement (an international treaty on climate change), countries around the world agreed to work towards reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero’ by around 2050. Both the UK[1] and France[2] have committed to this target.

Fortunately, the circular economy presents an opportunity to prevent waste and associated pollution, and ensure products and materials are kept in use at the highest possible value for as long as possible. This is enabled through designing products that are durable and easy to maintain and repair; can be reused many times by borrowing, renting and buying second-hand or refurbished products; with material recovery only when items can no longer be reused or repaired, through recycling (figure 1).

Before reading about waste management and the circular economy further, it is recommended that your local authority completes the BLUEPRINT Baselining Activity. This will help you assess how your local authority is currently performing with regards to a circular economy. The BLUEPRINT Baselining Activity supports local authorities to identify areas where they are already performing well and identify areas of opportunity to improve circularity.

The butterfly diagram of the circular economy from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Figure 1: The Butterfly Diagram: Visualising the Circular Economy (ellenmacarthurfoundation.org).

Waste management in France and England

In England, the collection of materials for recycling and embedding the circular economy tends to be led by local authorities, with guidance drawn from central government policy, strategies and plans. There is a vast array of different kerbside collection systems in place from one local authority to the next. Recycling is collected from the kerbside and sorted by material streams such as paper and card, plastics or glass, either via source separation, co-mingled or by a combination of the two collection routes.

In France, a shift to a more consistent approach is underway across the entire country, with items described as ‘packaging’ placed in one yellow coloured container, including all types of plastic packaging, paper and card, and tins. There is also a glass bottles and jars container, a food waste bin, and a residual waste bin. Materials collected via the packaging bin will be taken to a sorting facility and separated by material stream. Not all materials sorted as packaging are able to be recycled, but the aim is to make sorting simpler for the public to increase participation.[3] ADEME, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, provides expertise and advice to businesses, local authorities, communities, government bodies and the public – with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through such routes as circular economy action, with significant national funding to accelerate the transition.[4]

Waste management opportunities

Local authority waste management presents many challenges and opportunities to move towards a circular economy. The BLUEPRINT Project’s Waste Flows and Scenario Analysis of Circular Economy Solutions and Potentials in England and France report investigates the current landscape, including challenges and barriers (section 3.1) and potential reduction in waste arisings of six product and material categories (section 4):

  • textiles & clothing
  • packaging
  • food & garden
  • furniture
  • construction materials
  • small & large appliances.

English FCE region results

Findings from this research estimates that there are 8.8 million tonnes of waste arisings across the six product and material categories in the English France Channel England (FCE) region. Of this, 48% is recycled (excluding construction materials), or 62% is recycled if construction materials are included. The combined potential reduction in waste arisings ranges from 19% (low ambition scenario) up to 46% (high ambition scenario). The high ambition scenario across all sectors results in an overall decline in waste sent to landfill and incineration with energy recovery from 3.4 million tonnes to 1.8 million tonnes; and recycling reducing from 5.5 million tonnes to 4.5 million tonnes due to a shift towards reuse, refurbishment, rental, repair, and refill.

French FCE region results

Similarly, section 5.1 shares findings for the French FCE region. There are 13.7 million tonnes of waste arisings across the six product and material categories, with 49% recycled (excluding construction materials), and 60% recycled including construction materials. The combined potential reduction in waste arisings ranges from 13% (low ambition scenario) to 34% (high ambition scenario). The high ambition scenario results in an overall decline in waste being sent to landfill and incineration with energy recovery from 5.5 million tonnes to 3.6 million tonnes; and recycling reducing from 8.2 million tonnes to 6.8 million tonnes.

This shows that the shift to a circular economy can result in significant reductions in the volume of waste generated. Read the full Waste Flows and Scenario Analysis of Circular Economy Solutions and Potentials in England and France report to find out more.

The role of policies, strategies and plans in waste management

Polices, strategies, and plans have an important role to play in ensuring the right systems are in place that support local authority employees and service users and help them adopt desired behaviours.

Waste management policies

It’s essential to understand the national and local policy landscape for local authority waste management to ensure statutory obligations are met and that targets are aligned and achieved, or even exceeded.

There are a number of key national UK strategies that feed into local authority waste management and circular economy initiatives:

From these strategies emerge targets that local authority waste management and circular economy strategies should support:

  • All plastic packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
  • No food waste to landfill by 2030.
  • Eliminate all biodegradable waste to landfill by 2030.
  • Municipal waste to landfill 10% or less by 2035.
  • 65% recycling rate by 2035.
  • Eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
  • Double resource productivity by 2050.
  • Eliminate avoidable waste of all types by 2050.
  • Net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In addition to these targets, a number of DEFRA (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) waste consultations are currently outstanding at the time of writing in December 2022:

  • Consistent collection consultation proposes to ‘optimise’ collection systems for plastics, metal, glass, paper and card, food waste and garden waste.
  • Extended producer responsibility consultation proposes to incentivise packaging producers to take greater responsibility for the environmental impact of their packaging.
  • Deposit return scheme consultation proposes to incentivise the return of drinks containers for recycling.[5]
  • Consultation on the revised Waste Prevention Programme for England on how to move towards a more resource-efficient economy, by reducing waste in the first place, and increasing recycling rates.[6]

In France, the French Anti-Waste Law[7] was adopted in 2020 to encourage businesses, municipalities, and citizens to eliminate waste and adopt more circular practices. Over 100 measures towards a circular economy were adopted under this law. A few of the key measures for system change include:

  • Eliminating plastic pollution through a range of policy measures:
    • Aim to phase out single-use plastic packaging by 2040 and recycle 100% of plastics by 2025
    • Ban on everyday plastic items such as tea bags, disposable tableware, and disposable fruit and vegetable packaging
    • Encourage the adoption of zero-waste practices such as the obligation for public institutions to be equipped with water fountains, fast food restaurants to provide reusable tableware, and the use of reusable containers and bulk sales in retail stores.
  • Tackling construction waste through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  • Promoting reuse and employment through EPR funding.
  • Banning the destruction of unsold goods.
  • Encouraging repairs through a repairability index.
  • Incentive Pricing by introducing charges for waste disposal based on volume, weight or number of removals. Introduced to over 200 communities in France, it has been estimated that on average, implementing Incentive Pricing to households could reduce residual waste by 41%, increase the collection of packaging and paper by 30%, and reduce household waste by 8%.

Waste management strategies

There are statutory requirements for local authorities to create and review waste management strategies. The review periods are often lengthy, reflecting the long-term nature of waste infrastructure planning. The strategies create a framework for local authorities to outline how they will deliver services and operations that meet the needs of their residents, while aligning to key targets and ambitions.

At the time of writing a strategy, relevant policies are often fully referenced. However, local authority waste strategies can cover periods of 10 years or, in many cases, a lot longer. Meanwhile, DEFRA stipulates that local authority waste strategies should be reviewed at least every five years, as even over a short time policies or strategies can become dated. At the time of writing (2022), the results of a series of consultations in England, often referred to as the Collection and Packaging Reforms (CPR), are yet to be published. This includes:

  • Consistent municipal recycling collections (consistent collections) for England.
  • Extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging in the UK.
  • Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Strategies often acknowledge this challenge by referencing consultations that are in progress. Business planning should ensure regular strategy reviews to maintain an up-to-date and relevant waste strategy document.

There are many opportunities to incorporate circular economy principles into a local authority waste strategy by outlining a range of approaches that work towards achieving targets and ambitions. While individual activities are best placed in action plans, approaches or commitments can outline a strategy’s ambition without stifling the opportunity for innovation later on. 

Circular economy strategies

While each local authority will have a waste strategy, how embedded is the circular economy will vary greatly. Some local authorities have opted to create a separate circular economy strategy, with others choosing to integrate circular economy principles in their waste strategy (as well as other strategies across the local authority). There are pros and cons to each method, with the right option being down to your own local authority’s preference, existing strategy landscape and timing, or need for a particular strategy review.

The responsibility for integrating the circular economy should not just sit with waste management, but across all functions and services. This is why some may opt for a separate circular economy strategy. However, not integrating circular economy principles into existing strategies risks different teams working in silos. Ultimately, both indicate a move in the right direction, with no one-size-fits-all solution.

Action plans 

Action plans are an essential resource that can support the delivery of strategic goals, by detailing actions that support a desired outcome. They can range from long-term action plans (5+ years) to short-term annual action plans, with many local authorities opting to use both.

Some local authorities or waste partnerships publish these plans to show commitment and transparency. This initiative can also act as positive promotion for the local authority and a way to be held accountable by the communities we serve. They can also help to define the priority activities for a local authority to focus efforts and achieve targets.

While action plans vary greatly, they are often structured using tables, with columns for: actions that are concise and clearly support overarching targets; milestones or start and end dates; and some indication of the scale of impact. Action plans may also incorporate information on cost, stakeholders, priority, and status update.

It is important to recognise that once an action plan has been created, it should be well used and regularly reviewed for it to remain a useful resource that is fit-for-purpose and a meaningful document for the public if published.

Here you can view examples of circular economy and waste strategies and plans:

Learning from the Waste Strategy for Essex development

Please note that content referencing the draft Waste Strategy for Essex is for the purpose of providing examples of opportunities to engage on the circular economy within a waste management context only. At the time of writing, the draft strategy was in early development and subject to public consultation and approval from partners and stakeholders from across the Essex Waste Partnership.

Background to the Waste Strategy for Essex

Essex County Council (ECC) is the statutory Waste Disposal Authority (WDA) for Essex and is obligated under the Environmental Protect Act 1990 to provide a range of waste services for the treatment and disposal of Local Authority Collected Waste (LACW). To optimise the delivery of its statutory waste functions ECC works in partnership with the 12 Essex Waste Collection Authorities (WCAs), collectively known as the Essex Waste Partnership (EWP). 

The Essex Waste Partnership has initiated work to replace the existing 25-year Joint Municipal Waste Management Strategy (JMWMS) for Essex (2007-2032). The creation of a JMWMS is a statutory requirement for waste disposal and collection authorities. However, the Essex Waste Partnership recognises the opportunity for innovation and partnership working arising from a new draft strategy. This will also enable the optimisation of waste infrastructure in line with national policy and local strategic objectives.

The development of the new draft Waste Strategy for Essex presented a great opportunity to ensure circular economy principles were considered at every stage. Stakeholder engagement was central to this.

Stakeholder engagement

There were a range of opportunities to engage with stakeholders on the circular economy. For example, through briefing notes circulated during the visioning stage (to get a clear picture of the challenges and potential) of the strategy development to three key groups:

  1. Essex Waste Partnership project team.
  2. Essex Waste Partnership directors and senior leaders.
  3. Essex Waste Partnership elected members.

This exercise presented an opportunity to introduce the circular economy, explain what it means for a local authority, and highlight how the circular economy links with national targets and policies. Circular economy considerations were a core part of defining the vision and formed part of the guiding principles throughout the strategy development.

The waste strategy working group was another chance to regularly weave in the role of the circular economy into waste management. It’s been important to apply circular economy principles to waste management opportunities and discuss the potential, such as waste reduction or recycling opportunities. Tailoring the language to the audience and outlining how the circular economy goes beyond the waste hierarchy, has been essential in gaining support for this initiative.

Developing a waste strategy with circular economy principles considered throughout has a range of benefits. Highlighting these to stakeholders has ensured positive engagement that elevates the profile of the circular economy. In addition to the environmental and cost-saving benefits of reducing waste, there are many social benefits – through training and job opportunities in reuse, repair and recycling initiatives, social value in keeping products in use, and the availability of good quality affordable items through second-hand markets.

Evidence-led approach

Another opportunity to engage on the circular economy for the draft Waste Strategy for Essex was through detailing interventions that deliver waste reduction impacts and outlining how activities support national and local targets.

A comprehensive spreadsheet of circular economy and waste reduction recommendations were submitted to stakeholders for challenge and approval. The spreadsheet outlined a range of interventions grouped by material stream or service opportunity, such as food and garden waste. It listed key interventions under each group such as ‘decrease avoidable food waste’. This was then supported by a description of the activity, estimated waste reduction tonnages and cost-savings (over five years).

Each intervention linked to additional tabs that contained detailed information on how the cost-savings and reduction tonnages were calculated. This was further linked to findings from best practice case studies and research provided by organisations such as WRAP, overlaid with local population data, waste and recycling tonnages and any learning from previous interventions.

This evidence-led approach highlighted the avoided waste disposal opportunity of household waste in Essex and the importance of behaviour change initiatives in waste management. This work could form the basis of a published Waste Reduction Action Plan in the future.

Opportunities for circular economy considerations

There are a number of opportunities that support a circular economy and waste management. These opportunities formed topics of discussion during the strategy development such as:

  • Including information in the draft Waste Strategy for Essex on what a circular economy is, and how it links in with local authority waste management.
  • Exploring how existing waste services can best support residents to reduce waste and reuse more, such as kerbside collections, bulky waste collection, and recycling centres.  
  • Understanding how unwanted items (that would otherwise be thrown away) can be redistributed through partnerships and collaborations with other teams and organisations. 
  • Continuing to explore innovative solutions, and support, enable and deliver waste reduction, reuse, and repair initiatives. 
  • Helping residents understand how they can make the most of opportunities to reduce, reuse and repair. This could be through local initiatives or national campaigns.
  • Leading by example to champion waste reduction, reuse and repair in our own organisations. 
  • Building trust through transparent communications, such as outlining where materials are sent for processing, and to work with contractors to ensure materials collected for recycling have secure markets.  

Collaboration and partnerships

Local authority waste partnerships and regional groups

Moving towards a circular economy will be a gradual process that takes time. Being an active member of a local authority waste partnership or joining a regional waste management group can help to accelerate progress and achieve greater shared benefits across areas.

For a partnership this could be working together to share resources, expertise and workload, using wider communication channels, and sharing costs to deliver high performing projects that offer value-for-money. It can also be a good way to challenge perspectives and refine decision-making.

Regional groups are another great way to share best practice or learn from neighbouring local authorities. The set-up varies between groups, with some meeting quarterly and others meeting annually. Topics of discussion are usually planned in advance; they may incorporate site visits and can be great places to share any challenges and find out how others are tackling similar issues.

Collaboration across your organisation

We often think of collaboration as being between organisations, however, linking up with colleagues across our own organisation is just as important, particularly in the context of a large local authority. How well we do this can depend on the size of a local authority, existing ambitions, and support from senior leadership. As we operate in a landscape with increasing demand for public services and decreasing budgets, continuing to work across teams is essential to embed circular economy principles and meet net zero ambitions. As previously mentioned, the circular economy is not solely down to waste managers, however, waste management officers can be the catalyst for change, particularly within their own organisations.

Collaboration with external organisations

Collaborations needn’t be confined to local authority waste manager officers. Officers and senior leaders from local authorities can rally action from businesses and anchor institutions, charities, and residents. Cross-sector collaboration can be an effective way to work together on a common purpose and share expertise – whether that’s eliminating barriers or creating new opportunities. Working collaboratively can help to amplify the scale of a project, the impact and deliver greater results.

Local Refill initiatives are a great example of cross-sector collaboration. These often involve the campaign owner, City to Sea, local authorities, water companies, local businesses and local champions working together to achieve shared benefits.

Leading by example

Waste management and the circular economy often involves looking at service provision and operations for residents. However, it is important to lead by example within our local authorities, too.

This could be through engaging with colleagues on the benefits of the circular economy and the role of circular economy business models such as repair and maintenance, reuse and recycling; demonstrating the ‘art of the possible’ to other councils and anchor institutions; delivering long-term reputational and financial benefits for a local authority; and inspiring residents to ‘do their part’ to reduce waste in their area.

The Circular Economy Hub at Essex County Council is a small working group set up to find out about colleague understanding of the circular economy and point out activities that already support a circular economy. The findings are used to highlight good practices that are already circular across the organisation, as well as helping to remove barriers – such as the knowledge gap on what the circular economy is – through colleague training and communication.

Another example is through the Equalities Comprehensive Impact Assessment (ECIA) framework at ECC, which is currently under review. For new policies or a change in policy, colleagues are required to complete an ECIA to ensure good decision-making processes. This digital form (hosted on the intranet) asks colleagues a range of questions covering topics on accessibility and equality, and now includes climate considerations. Climate considerations examples include asking whether an activity will create waste, whether recyclability and recycling provision has been considered, and whether locally sourced and second-hand goods could be used.

Data analysis, monitoring and evaluation

Data is essential to ensuring not only compliance across waste management, but also in supporting local authorities to strive towards reducing waste and improving recycling. The availability of timely data and related analysis can provide the basis for developing systems, interventions and communications that target areas of opportunity, the intended audience and to allow for continuous monitoring and improvement.

Data challenges

As part of the wider BLUEPRINT Project, partners carried out research and published their findings via reports on the BLUEPRINT website. One such report published findings on Local Authority Waste Management Data Analysis Challenges and the Circular Economy and proposed solutions.

Key findings indicated that substantial waste flow data is available for materials, however, there is a lack of data on residual waste composition analysis; very little data available down to a local level such as postcode; and no information on product acquisition and use before disposal. While in-cab technology may be available to collect data on the number of bins collected and tonnages during rounds, this is not something all Waste Collection Authorities have access to.

It’s also notoriously difficult in waste management to evidence that an intervention carried out directly resulted in a reduction of waste or increase in recycling. Baseline data is essential to measure waste reduction – pilot projects can provide the opportunity to test the impact of interventions and support decision-making to rollout an intervention by evidencing the opportunity. In the monitoring and evaluation section, BLUEPRINT Project partners EcoWise shares information on the Circulates tool, to support local authorities towards linking waste flows with circular economy interventions.

Data recommendations

Recommendations were proposed ranging from: the introduction of onboard bin-weighing systems across waste collection vehicles; investment in camera and artificial intelligence infrastructure to allow for more frequent composition analysis at lower cost; and to deploy an annual household survey per product category (e.g., textiles, furniture, and appliances).

Detailed information on waste flows can help local authorities to investigate and understand how to prevent products and materials from becoming waste in the first place. Project partners, EcoWise, designed a wardrobe survey to better understand behaviours around clothing and textile consumption and disposal. View the Local Authority Waste Management Data Analysis Challenges and the Circular Economy report to find out how you can apply this approach to problem materials in your area (page 17).

National data

National data is just as important as local data. The Waste & Resource Action Programme (WRAP) will be a familiar organisation to officers working in English local authority waste management. WRAP offers insight into a wide range of waste and recycling topic areas, composition analysis and national trends. Similarly in France, ADEME is a source for national waste and recycling data. Case studies from other local authorities and national research can be useful tools to support targets and set expectations for a particular intervention.

Carbon accounting

Increasingly, carbon accounting is a new metric being added to waste reduction reporting. To report greenhouse gas emissions in terms of an organisation’s activities, the carbon emissions need to be converted into ‘activity data’ such as tonnes of waste disposed. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has created a conversion factor spreadsheet, and guidance on how to use the conversions is updated annually.

Visit DEFRA Conversion Factors page to find out more.

Research, reports and presentations

Many key organisations lead the way for a circular economy, including:

  • ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) – provides expertise and advice to businesses, local authorities, communities, government bodies and the public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) – is a leading professional membership organisation for individuals in the sustainability, resources and waste management sector.
  • Ellen MacArthur Foundation – provides online resources covering all aspects of the circular economy.
  • Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) – provides online resources and host events to support officers working in waste management, as well as influencing UK waste policy.  
  • Local Government Association (LGA) – is a national membership body for local authorities working on behalf of member councils to support, promote and improve local government.
  • ReLondon is a partnership of the Mayor of London and the London boroughs to improve waste and resource management and transform the city into a leading low carbon circular economy.
  • Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) –works around the globe with governments, businesses, and citizens to make the world a more sustainable place. It shares insight and resources on a range of reduction, reuse and recycling opportunities.
  • Zero Waste Scotland is a not-for-profit environmental organisation, using evidence and insights to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy.

BLUEPRINT Project research and reports

As part of the BLUEPRINT to a Circular Economy Project, a number of reports have been published. The reports listed below may be of interest to officers working in waste management:

Find all BLUEPRINT Project reports here.

Presentations from the BLUEPRINT Roadshow

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