How will TEEP impact local authorities' operations?

Written by: RWW | Published:

Waste management consultants, Steve Rymill and Dr Adam Read of Ricardo-AEA consider the implications of TEEP (technically, environmentally and economically practicable) for local authorities and how they should work their way through all the new guidance that is now available.

It will have been hard for local authorities across the UK not to be aware of TEEP, given the degree of trade press coverage and workshops on hand to help set the scene for compliance. Transposition of the revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) into UK Law, requires the separate collection of four core recyclables (paper, metal, plastic and glass) where the collection method used is demonstrated as ‘technically, environmentally and economically practicable’ (TEEP) to do so.

The Waste (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 come into force from January 1, 2015. 

By then, any local authority that is not collecting and keeping the four key materials separate may find themselves open to a potentially costly legal challenge.

At a basic level, all a local authority needs to do to avoid having to implement separate collections is prove that segregation is too expensive for them (if it is), although that in itself may be complex. 

However, it is likely that any defence of a co-mingled approach would need more substance than this, with options modelling and service analysis coming to the fore.

No doubt, local authority officers will be aware of the route map that has been released through WRAP that can help local authorities to assess their compliance with the rWFD, and it is certainly a good starter for 10. This provides tests that can be done to evaluate compliance, and how to navigate an assessment from basic principles.

Seven steps

Seven steps are suggested to achieve compliance with the rWFD:

Review what materials are collected and how

Appraise how collected materials are managed

Apply the waste hierarchy

Decide whether separate collection of the four recyclables is required, including completing necessity and practicability tests

Obtain sign-off

Retain evidence

Continuing re-evaluation.

In order to meet these steps, external assistance may be required, if only to ensure the process is robust and independent.

Unforeseen impacts

Where separate collections are deemed (and modelled) as more practicable and appropriate, and subsequently implemented, could this lead to unforeseen impacts? 

For example, could the local authority in question see a reduced recycling rate, particularly when the solution requires a halt to food waste collections to maintain its affordability? 

This will not help to meet key recycling targets locally or nationally - is that what we want? Is TEEP potentially putting too much pressure on local authorities to justify their decisions in very tough economic times, and when much UK and EU policy has been focused on landfill diversion and recycling improvements? 

It all seems potentially disjointed!

One approach that could help to provide more direction to local authorities would be to adopt the Scottish approach and legislate kerbside segregation of the four recyclables. 

It seems obvious in creating a level playing field, and giving a period of transition in which services must evolve. But will they enforce this policy, and if so, how? 

Aberdeen City Council

The Scottish approach has already been countered, with Aberdeen City Council saying that it intends to move to a fully co-mingled recycling collection system next year. 

Why? Because it needs to save money and improve local engagement. 

The council will argue that the quality of the material will not be significantly lower than it would be if the authority was to comply with the Waste (Scotland) Regulations, while it has a better chance of meeting the targets set by the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Plan 2010. 

So any future legislation may need to be watertight and enforced if it is to really drive this change in local service provision.

There are examples of other authorities that have already defended their position on co-mingled collections, such as the Hertfordshire Waste Partnership and Birmingham City Council. 

And this grows every week as authorities look to support on-going service procurement decisions, or joint working approaches etc.

Where a local authority does anything other than a kerbside segregation of the four recyclables, they will need to consider the cost of proving their case, i.e. that it is not ‘TEEP’ to keep these separate. There will be numerous approaches available for them, from running though one of the TEEP guides available, to learning from other authorities who have compiled reports already. 

Using the cheapest approach to this analysis may not be sufficient to validate the authorities chosen solution, but given we are yet to see a ‘case’ or challenge, no one knows what level of detail, analysis and forecasting will suffice. 

At its most expensive, an authority could use a reputable consultant to consider every angle of the rWFD in detail, and model a number of different collection options in terms of performance, costs, quality, income, etc. 

A more pragmatic approach

However, would spending £20-30,000 to support an authority’s decision be acceptable when budgets are tight; perhaps a more pragmatic approach should be adopted? 

The level of investment in decision-making should be decided by the level of service investment and the potential risks of getting it wrong. So until we know what the implications of having a non-TEEP solution are, we expect most authorities to do in-house or cheap third party checks of their approach, which are little more than a tick box exercise. This doesn’t sound right, but it will be reality, at least until a test case comes to the fore.

Ricardo-AEA has already started to help a number of local authorities to ensure they are complying with the rWFD requirements. We have developed a new tool to assist in the assessment process and would be happy to discuss its suitability with any LAs out there.

It is probable that not every local authority will act, at least not in the short term, preferring to watch and wait. 

Come the turn of the year, all eyes in England will be looking to see what has happened, and what government does in return. But, you could protect yourself by undertaking some initial analysis and benchmarking now, and save the potential pain later; it’s up to you. 

- For more details, visit www.ricardo-AEA

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