You don’t need to look too far into expectations within local government about the direction budgets might move in the coming years. I’ve read a number of stories and reports recently and they all say that budgets are expected to continue to fall. In fact one report from a respected national source showed nearly a 90% expectation of future cuts.
Worse still, it seems that most local authorities expect relatively large cuts in the future. This expectation after a number of years of existing pressure on budgets is adding further stress into waste management operations across the country.
The UK population is increasingly urban and it’s growing. This also adds to the challenge, as we will have responsibilities for collecting and processing the waste these shifts bring into our communities, regardless of current or expected cuts to budgets.
Across the UK, municipal waste operations have no choice but to look for ways to make this work. As a professional who’s spent many years managing waste services I know how difficult this could turn out to be.
We’re seeing stories in the news about councils looking to reduce bin collections to save money. Whilst I’ve seen at least one story suggesting an expectation that simply cutting collections might work, I know it’s not popular with residents as this recent story shows.
In these challenging times, we need solutions that can change the dynamics of how we do things – but cost effectively and at minimal risk. For example, much street cleansing is done on a fixed route and collection model. As a result and over time this is what our residents and businesses have come to expect. They know which days their bins are collected and they know to leave the bins out.
One way of cutting costs is to simply empty the bins less but I worry that this simply shifts the problem. I worry that this will lead to more fly tipping and ultimately to more time and money being switched to street cleaning to pick up extra waste that is created by less bin collections.
In APSE’s recent Local Authority Street Cleansing State of the Market 2015, I read with interest some of the ways that councils are seeking to manage these challenging budgetary conditions. There are a range of good suggestions including route optimisation and more effective use of plant and fleet, reduced frequencies of sweeping and no increases in litter bin numbers.
What’s also good news is that there are already technology solutions being deployed by a number of local authorities across the UK that are delivering significant improvements and efficiencies in all of these areas. Smart technology solutions can ensure bins are only collected when full, potentially significantly reducing the number of collection runs needed and all associated costs. Collection routes that are dynamically optimised are already saving money and data driven waste management can identify and optimise the number of bins you actually need and where they need to be. This is already happening in the UK.
Smart systems that gather data continually can and are transforming waste management. The payback is rapid (typically within months) and can allow local authorities to move back onto the front foot with their waste management activities. Because this is data driven, it’s also possible to assess and estimate the potential savings quickly.
So while the outlook appears grim and challenges most definitely remain, there are already a range of cities around the UK incorporating cutting edge technology that’s providing the data, the analysis and the optimisation to deliver a more efficient service for less.
For councils that have begun this journey, they’re often further surprised at how quickly they can use the data to suggest further ways to innovate as they move forwards.