Julian Glasspole, managing director of Vehicle Weighing Solutions Ltd (VWS), gives his views on the need for measurement in waste collection and why using weighing technology for domestic collection rounds could be used to facilitate incentive schemes to increase recycling rates
It’s no secret that I am passionate about weighing, however, after more than 30 years involved in all manner of weighing technology design, manufacture and installation I am still taken back by the positive impact that proper measurement can have on a business or organisation’s activities.
The legendary management consultant, Peter Drucker, summed it up perfectly: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.
We talk about waste management, but without accurate measurement there can be no wholesale management or monitoring. Without accurate data about what is being thrown away, by whom and in what quantity, there is little point setting targets for improvement as we can’t monitor or measure the effectiveness of any initiatives or equipment.
I’ve witnessed a huge upturn in bin weighing technology within the commercial waste sector during the past few years and the most forward-thinking waste operators have already equipped their fleet so that they can properly measure what they are collecting and from whom, and in some cases introduce pay-by-weight services (which are on the rise).
As an example, take Simon Almond, managing director of Devon Contract Waste (DCW). He, like most operators, used to run his business based on average weights. However, and despite some initial sceptism about the financial investment and the reliability of the equipment, he now says he would never have a truck without fitting bin weighing.
Since every DCW bin is now measured and recorded, new opportunities and working practices are available to the business. For example, customers are no longer underpaying for heavy collections and costing the business money. All customers are billed in a fair and consistent way and some have even had their bills reduced. The heavy throwers are no longer subsidised by those who throw less or are more careful about sorting their recyclables.
With the help of bespoke management software, Simon has an integrated solution where the lifts and weights are recorded directly into the back office system in real time against customer records. So if a customer claims their waste hasn’t been collected, DCW can investigate quickly. The information is available at the click of a button. Since introducing the system, DCW have increased its revenue by around £1,500 every week so it more than pays for itself.
The Carrot Wins!
Now imagine equipping domestic refuse collection vehicles with this technology and these management tools? And let’s think outside of the pay-by-weight box for a minute. When it comes to greener thinking and living, the carrot has been proven to be more effective that the stick.
Weighing waste could be used as a powerful tool in encouraging people to recycle and to pinpoint the biggest problem areas (or even streets). Such detailed data could pave the way for targeted reward incentive campaigns that can change behaviour.
A study carried out by Greenredeem, an organisation that partners with local authorities to deliver increased resident recycling rates and behavioural change, showed that over 60 percent of adults in the UK think the Government doesn’t do enough to incentivise recycling and the majority (73 percent) believe they should be rewarded to encourage them to recycle.
Conversely, the introduction of fines (pay-by-weight?) is thought to have a negative effect on recycling rates with only six percent of the same study agreeing that this would affect their recycling rates. So perhaps we are not yet ready for pay-by-weight!
However, by measuring the level of waste in each street and town, we could create a waste map of the UK, determine where action is most needed and create bespoke incentive schemes to increase recycling participation rates in those areas.
A living example of the effectiveness of rewards for recycling is Bracknell Forest, where the local authority has pioneered the use of smart card technology. Residents can enrol for an e+ card, which has an electronic chip to store data. Those who recycle their household waste properly, in their blue bin, can collect points and redeem them for rewards such as entry to the local gym or swimming pool, or to special events.
Over 11,000 households (almost a quarter of the area) participate in the scheme, and the numbers continues to rise. The initial trial of the scheme showed that recyclable waste found in refuse had decreased by almost 1,000 tonnes (representing a saving of circa £90,000).
With the addition of weighing technology to measure behaviour on a house-by-house, street-by-street basis, the reward scheme could be targeted more intensively in those areas where take up is lower.
There needs to be a sea-change in the public’s attitude and behaviour towards waste disposal and recycling. Rewards or incentives offer a tried and tested solution but to implement such a plan we first need to measure to get an accurate, detailed picture of the scale of the problem. Then we can start to make changes and monitor what works best.