What’s shaping environmental services and waste management in 2024 for local authorities?

COP 28 – The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference

For environmental professionals everywhere, action on climate change is a priority. Hosting COP 28 in Dubai, UAE, one of the centres of the oil industry was a bold move. This was two weeks that represented the opportunity for leading economies to demonstrably raise their game in the effort to decarbonise.

Chiefly, this could be shown through firm commitments to reducing CO2 emissions and making investments to help developing nations mitigate the effects of climate change and in their decarbonisation efforts.

Instead… we have yet another message that only indicates an intent to decarbonise. The horse trading typical of policy making at these events has always been a major point of focus as revisions to the final text are frantically undertaken. This year was no exception.

Despite more ambitious, earlier draft texts containing the phrase “phase out” oil, gas and coal use, the final text refers to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner… so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

This significantly waters down the ambition and the speed at which change is going to take place in our attempts to decarbonise. The optimists describe this as the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. UK climate minister Graham Stuart said: “It’s the first time we got the world – including the major oil and gas producers – to sign up to transition away from fossil fuels.”

However, for those nations facing existential risk it falls far short. The Least Developed Countries Group has almost 50 members, including the island nation states that are at imminent risk from rising sea levels. Madeleine Diouf Sarr, chair of the group, summarised the outcome of COP 28 as: “Today’s outcome is full of eloquent language but regrettably devoid of actionable commitments.”

Progress at the top level on curbing CO2 emissions at scale still appears woefully slow and inadequate. It seems to be that it is now up to each of the 198 nations that attended COP 28 to decide how far and how fast it wants to go towards decarbonising. The UK’s policy provides little in the way of authoritative certainty on the topic.

However, local authorities can push ahead by decarbonising waste management services through electrification of waste management fleets. There’s more to migrating to EV waste management than simply switching to electric vehicles. Contact us to find out how we can help with your waste management fleet electrification project.

Simpler Recycling reforms to harmonise waste management services

At the end of October 2023, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) revealed reforms to bin collections and the UK’s waste system and have become known as ‘Simpler Recycling.’ For the bulk of this the deadline is the end of March 2026.

One objective is to eliminate the current ‘postcode lottery’ where homes in some areas of the country can recycle materials like glass in their domestic recycling bins, while others can’t. The plans also mandate digital waste tracking, with the aim of cracking down on waste crime, which costs England £1 billion a year.

The government intends to provide a means of seeing what happens to the 200 million + tonnes of waste the UK produces annually. Waste tracking data should show where and how waste is created, what happens to it, and where it ends up.

The main changes that Defra’s Simpler Recycling plans set out are:

  • Every local authority in England will collect seven recyclable waste streams from households – food waste, glass recycling, garden waste, metal, plastic, paper, and card
  • Most UK households will receive weekly food waste collections
  • At least once a fortnight there will be residual (general) waste removals
  • Plastic film will be collected as part of the plastic waste stream, but the deadline is a year later by 31 March 2027
  • Waste collectors can collect combined dry recyclables so there’s no need for seven bins per household
  • The same rules will apply to businesses, schools and hospitals with recycling collections (except for garden waste and plastic film) starting in March 2025.
  • A central digital system for waste tracking will be introduced for waste carriers, operators, and brokers

For councils of course, during 2024, this means a significant amount of preparation, typically, restructuring logistics, operations and facilities to accommodate the Simpler Recycling changes. Whitespace waste management software solutions are highly adaptable and can be applied to many aspects of recycling.

Section 114 may be looming for 20% of councils

A bit like the mounting evidence on climate change, the signs of severe financial stress are becoming more apparent in public services.

On 5th September 2023 Birmingham City Council enacted a Section 114 notice, acknowledging its inability to meet its ongoing financial obligations. It was followed on 29 November by Nottingham City Council.

An LGA survey of council leaders and chief executives published on 6th December 2023 shows that one in five believe it is very or fairly likely that their chief finance officer will need to issue a Section 114 notice this year or next due to a lack of funding to keep key services running.

This indicates that a severe problem is building up. In the 35 year history since the Local Government Finance Act 1988 became law, only fourteen councils have issued section 114 notices.

The LGA estimates that the 333 councils in England face a £4 billion funding gap over the next two years just to maintain current levels of service. Last month’s Autumn Statement failed to provide any respite – there was no additional funding needed to protect services from further cuts.

Increases in general council tax of more than 3% need to be put to a referendum, with social care provisioning allowing a rise of a further 2%. However, the risk is that many households struggling to cope with the cost of living crisis will become further financially stressed by increases in tax.

Funding local services is a problem that transcends party politics, with councils of all political colours and types warning that growing demand and cost pressures threaten financial sustainability.

Of course, some statutory services including safeguarding of vulnerable people, social care and homelessness support are ‘soft’ and people-centric. On the other hand, environmental services are ‘hard’, more process driven. This means technology can more easily be applied to create efficiency and optimise key elements, such as waste management.

Throughout 2024 and beyond, for councils that need to make more effective use of waste management budgets, Whitespace technology solutions help transform efficiency, helping LA environmental directorates to overcome their financial challenges.

Tackle your 2024 waste management challenges with Whitespace

Whether its EV fleet migration, waste management logistics or working with tight budgets, Whitespace partners with over 100 local authorities to help deliver efficient high quality environmental services.

To find out more about Whitespace Municipal Waste Management solutions, please get in touch by calling us on +44 (0)1483 231 650 or emailing us at info@whitespacews.com



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