UK train companies are forever warning us to ‘Mind the Gap’. But are they doing enough to close another gap that presents a different challenge altogether: the rail sector’s performance gap against targets to minimise waste? Despite committed obligations to reduce waste – and to meet the 90% recycling target set by the DfT – many train operators are some way from their destination. It’s not a surprise. In a world of modern excess, the challenges of waste management across public transport are significant; a high percentage of the waste is generated by transient consumers whilst facilities to accommodate, segregate or recycle materials are often inadequate. Overall, current approaches to the challenge are insufficient. If operators are to meet their environmental responsibilities, we must find an alternative route.
The myriad blueprints for environmental sustainability across the UK’s public transport network indicate a determination to get on the right track. But despite the growing scourge of avoidable waste, franchise agreements often place greater emphasis on sustainable energy and reducing carbon emissions. Operators’ responses are similarly proportionate. One train franchise, for example, budgets 45 times more for energy than waste each year. It’s not alone, this is fairly typical. However, the focus on waste is increasing. Twelve months ago, Campaign for Better Transport research revealed a range of strategies among train companies to reduce waste by strengthening processes at fleet depots and improving recycling at stations. It also highlighted a long-term objective to send zero waste to landfill. These commendable goals are matched by similar ambitions across bus and air travel. But as 2019 begins there remains a sizeable gap between the aspirations and the reality. It’s time to mind the gap.
The journey to reducing waste
Establishing a platform for environmentally responsible public transport is a long-haul journey on a stopping service. Here are five stops providers should call at if they’re to reach their destination.
Stop 1: Understand the waste you produce
The first step to efficient waste management is to understand the waste you’re producing. It’s only by (literally) lifting the lid of your bins and examining precisely what’s in them that you can configure the most appropriate solutions. Typically, public transport providers have viewed waste as ‘something to get rid of’ and delegated that responsibility to traditional waste management companies. It’s a passive approach. If operators are to meet the DfT’s ambitious recycling target, they must change mindset and take control and ownership of the process.
Progress requires an evaluation of the waste streams across your entire ‘estate’ – your fleet, stations, depots and on-site tenants – to establish the nature and volume of the waste you generate. This granular understanding will help you frame the business case for better waste management, providing a platform for cost-effective waste collection that reflects your real-world needs. Efficient models allow you to segregate waste appropriately rather than being at the mercy of waste contracts that rely on mixed recycling. Robust assessment of all your waste – and the resources you have at your disposal to deal with it – enables you to develop strategies that will make the biggest difference to the cost and environmental impact of waste.
If you get it right, waste streams can become revenue streams. For example, one train operator identified that newspapers constituted around 80% of its recyclable waste and redesigned its recycling to segregate them more effectively. Now, instead of paying a more expensive mixed recycling cost, it’s enjoying a steady revenue stream by claiming the rebate value on discarded tabloids.
Stop 2: Map your approach, site by site
The second step is to map your facilities. Whether you’re designing a solution for a train station, bus depot or airport, every location is different – so it’s important to understand individual needs on a site-by-site basis and tailor a plan accordingly. Historically, some transport providers have tried to develop ‘single solutions’ and roll them out across all their sites. However, local variation means that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. To configure the most effective services, it’s important to understand variable components such as the tonnage a site produces, the size of the bin storage area and the logistics of access for collection. The needs at Damens railway station (the smallest in the UK) will differ hugely from those at London Waterloo.
The complexities of local service design are further complicated by security restrictions that mean providers are only allowed two types of bin hoops for waste at stations. This constraint makes it even more important that you scrutinise every site on an individual basis to ensure you’re implementing the most effective solutions.
Stop 3: Collaborate to segregate
Step 3 is to establish clear processes for segregating waste. Primarily, it’s important to work closely with tenants to ensure you’re in control of any waste that’s being produced. For example, clear signage and the right number of recycling bins on platforms is essential if consumers are to segregate their waste at source. At larger sites that produce higher volumes of waste there may be a business case for additional human resources to help with segregation. Conversely, at smaller stations it may make greater sense to remove bins from platforms and encourage disposal on trains. Once again, designing the right solution requires a customised, pragmatic approach.
The drivers for change are real and increasing. With the recycling market moving away from low-grade DMR following China’s ban on mixed recycling, recent Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) guidelines have imposed further restrictions, increasing the pressure on transport operators.
Stop 4: Engage
Waste segregation will not happen simply because you increase your recycling bins and install clear signage. It’s people who put items in the bin; behaviour change to increase segregation requires good communication and a culture of collective responsibility. To ensure all parties – providers, consumers and on-site tenants – fulfil their responsibilities, ongoing engagement is essential. Robust training and education, both across your organisation and with on-site tenants, is key to promoting the importance of recycling and the value of segregation. Without it, even the most well-planned waste management strategies will fail.
Stop 5: Find the right partner
Achieving effective waste management across public transport is challenging. However, with expert advice and the support of an experienced partner, it’s possible to design responsive solutions that minimise waste and reduce costs. A good waste management provider will take a consultative approach to understand the needs of your organisation and tailor services that can transform your performance. For example, ten months since deploying a strategy that focuses on minimising and segregating waste, one major train operator has increased the amount it recycles by 70% and converted the cost of collection into a revenue stream.
Progressive waste management models that go beyond the traditional focus on ‘price-per-lift’ are a sensible direction of travel. As the pressure to meet their environmental obligations intensifies, operators across all forms of public transport must consider a new route. The current performance gap against recycling targets is not sustainable. It’s time for operators to follow their own advice… and mind the gap.