Waste has been neglected as an area for savings in all sectors. However, it is fast becoming an area of focus in schools that often have numerous sites and numerous waste streams to deal with. Disposing of general waste, food waste, clinical waste and at the same time ensuring minimal impact on the environment by recycling as much as possible, can present all sorts of challenges. And many schools are doing this across many locations with the potential to achieve economies of scale, especially considering the volumes they are producing.
So why waste time considering waste? Many schools have already embraced this area as savings of up to 20% can be made on waste management spending with our unique approach. Waste can be managed much more efficiently, allowing significant cost reduction and it doesn’t need to be a headache it can be for staff who have more important things to spend their time on.
And in education, the added benefit of dealing with your waste effectively is the positive message this gives to future generations – the importance of environmental awareness.
Internal waste segregation is the first step to having an optimal waste set-up and reducing your costs. Most classrooms just have one waste container which is classed as general waste. But why? It’s almost always good quality mixed recycling that goes in and so if handled correctly, would be 20-30% cheaper than general waste to dispose of.
In communal areas such as the playground and canteen, pupils should be given a choice of how to dispose of their rubbish, and bins should be well signposted to assist this process. Children today are far more aware of the need to recycle and generally want to do what they can to protect their environment. Education around waste and what happens to it can be built into classroom lessons. Many schools have also sought to appoint Green Champions to be responsible for generating ideas for improvement and overseeing new projects.
Separating out food waste has come on massively in that past 5 years. Food waste was previously predominantly sent to landfill. Waste companies do not like disposing of food waste when has been put into general waste for a number of reasons:
- The bins are heavy
- The waste is hard to recycle
- If the waste is incinerated it is classed as an inferior ‘mix’ and costs more to incinerate per load
Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants changed all of this. Food waste is collected and poured into massive holding tanks where bacteria break the food down. Gasses and heat are generated and harnessed to create energy. The leftover residue can then be used as a fertiliser. Food waste is circa 35% cheaper to dispose of in this way, compared to the cost of disposing of it as general waste, and the cost is decreasing further as these plants increase across the UK. The key to achieving good segregation of your waste is listening to the advice and guidance a waste expert can offer as it is such a specialist area. Regular waste companies don’t really have any incentive to go beyond the call of duty, so they simply take away all the containers as general waste. Site surveys are required to really
understand each school’s unique waste set up and to plan for any changes effectively. And with multiple school sites, this can obviously be an even bigger challenge.
MATS and Federations have the advantage of a larger amount of data from a number of different schools, which provides a lot of experience of what has worked and what hasn’t. This knowledge can also be shared across individual schools and other initiatives can be put in place to make the most of this information sharing, such as the Green Champions meeting on a regular basis.
Once the internal bin set up has been optimised this needs to be replicated in other waste areas so as to not undo the good segregation that has already taken place. So many schools have all sorts of waste containers to help segregate waste, only for them to be placed into one general waste container in the waste yard.
Now that you have the correct bins to facilitate recycling you need to select the right supplier to deal with your waste. Where do you start? There are the major suppliers like Biffa, for example, whose bins can be seen everywhere and there are also small local suppliers who may only service your town. The answer is not always simple. Every region will have a mix of large, medium and small waste companies. The best partner for your organisation will vary in each location and can be any of these possibilities. The larger companies may be more blasé and it may be difficult to talk to
someone who knows what is going on locally as your call is handled by a call centre located elsewhere. The smaller companies are often more responsive but one might have to consider how long they will be around, do they have the correct insurances and permits etc. And if you have schools across a larger area, the smaller providers may not cover the entire territory. In our experience, it’s good to choose a medium-sized waste company who have been around for a while, and see your business as worth having and will, therefore, offer a good level of service to retain it.
However, do not expect any innovation or proactivity from any of these companies. They make their money from doing as little as possible and in many cases, they even get
paid, when they are not providing the service they are supposed to. MATS and Federations who operate in a close geography can short-list known suppliers and bring together suppliers who have demonstrated excellent service and value for money and share this knowledge with schools in the group.
There is no doubt that an individual school will have limited bargaining power when negotiating with prospective suppliers. Therefore, there is a limited incentive for the
waste companies to offer low rates due to the low spend of the individual school. It’s advisable to consider quotes from various suppliers. The issue for most individual
schools is that this is a time-consuming process even if the school knew exactly who to contact. It is not a straightforward exercise to compare suppliers as the various quotes
will have the accompanying small print to consider.
A number of areas need to be considered:
- Are there extra charges for items like compliance?
- Will there be excess weight charges?
- When will the next price increase be?
Price increases need to be carefully considered. The waste industry traditionally issues increases in April each year to coincide with the Government’s landfill tax increases. Most waste companies still use this as their effective RPI increase. They can, however, increase their prices by as much as they like. This leads to a potential scenario where a school may have signed a contract in March and face a hefty increase in April. Whilst financial considerations are key to choosing the correct supplier, schools also need to be mindful of finding a supplier that is value for money rather than just
considering the lowest possible price. A cheap unit rate may come with poor service, limited back office support and zero account management etc. Schools also need to bear in mind that some suppliers – especially councils – charge quarterly or even annually, in advance.
Whilst also not good from a cash flow perspective, it can also lead to you paying for collections that actually never happen. MATS and Federations have a great advantage in grouping schools together and the collective buying power this represents. This is why the more tailored services that a waste management specialist can provide are perfectly suited to the multi-sited, multi-located schools represented by a MAT.
General waste has three destinations:
- Waste to energy
- Recycled with the residue going to either of the above
The UK Government has encouraged companies to divert waste from landfill via the introduction of taxation. Much of the UK’s waste is converted to energy at waste plants
– here waste is incinerated producing energy to be sold back into the grid. A large proportion of general waste is recyclable. Many waste companies have sorting operations that segregate the waste into its various components so that it’s cheaper to dispose of. These sites vary from basic manual picking lines through to sophisticated machines that identify certain waste streams and blow jets of air onto the lines to push waste into different collection containers.
Clearly, its beneficial to us all to ensure as little as possible goes to landfill and as such it’s important to ask your waste provider how your waste is being processed. Helping your waste provider by pre-sorting your waste ensures it then doesn’t need further treatment.
Waste companies are notoriously bad at doing what they are supposed to do and communication, when things go wrong, is very poor. It is then left to your staff to find out why a collection has been missed and to call the supplier. The call is usually to a centrally based help desk which can be far removed from the depot where the issue has arisen. The help desk is often unaware of the issue and will then need to go and investigate the problem. The speed of resolution is poor and sorting these issues, takes valuable time away from more important tasks.
Choosing the right waste provider reduces poor service. However, issues will always arise. It is therefore essential to have a named Account Manager representing you with extensive knowledge of your site and on hand to represent you.
Waste compliance is mandatory and non-compliance can have reputational and financial consequences. Schools should maintain records and details (including relevant
paperwork and certificates) for all statutory areas. To approach this you need to ensure that any supplier taking waste from your school has the appropriate waste carrier’s license. It is also key to ensure they have the appropriate insurances. We also recommend some level of background checks to ensure the supplier hasn’t breached waste regulations by fly-tipping, for example.
Each school will require an Annual Duty of Care from each waste supplier for regular waste collection services. Where you have ad hoc collections for items such as skips, FLO tubes etc, you may also require a Waste Transfer Note.
Health and Safety around waste are of paramount importance and any site visits should
consider the following:
- Is any hazardous waste generated? How is it stored safely and securely?
- Is capital equipment stored away from access by children, e.g. card balers etc
- Can the waste collection companies ensure they don’t empty the bins during drop off and pick up time, to ensure the safety of the children.
Schools are there to help educate our children and prepare them for adult life. Children need to be made aware that we have a moral obligation to look after our world due to
the scarcity of natural resources and the potential damage to the environment through our actions. Making a concerted effort to reduce the amount of waste generated, and
recycling as much as possible is an excellent lesson for children to learn. Schools need to involve the children in this process and make the most of external experts to educate
the next generation. Great internal communication can result in sustained improvements in waste.
The real benefits come when schools work together to share best practice and to ensure the sustainability of the solution i.e. that any benefits are
maintained and bad habits are not returned to. Single schools may find it difficult to convince external specialists to support the above. MATS and Federations, however, command much more spend and can coerce their waste partners or specialists to provide support in this area.