I have long had concerns about environmental issues. This led me to become involved with community groups, to study environmental sciences at university and to embark on a career developing household waste recycling collections, which barely existed in the UK at the time I started.
The following autobiographical notes focus on my involvement with recycling and a little on my pursuit of some related interests. There is more on the greater contributions of many others in the section on some history.
During secondary school days in the 1970s, I was inspired by campaigns to stop whaling and save endangered wildlife. At this time, modern environmentalism was emerging and there was also concern about pollution and the growing waste of a throwaway society. I was keen to get involved and see if I could make a practical contribution, which is what I did, as described by decade below.
While I was at university during the mid-1980s, recycling, although then limited, looked like it could be a growth area offering potential for future work. After six years as a student (undergraduate and postgraduate), I found myself testing the improving job prospects.
As recycling started to develop in the 1980s , industry initially focused on collection banks and the community sector focused on kerbside services, both working to varying extents with local authorities. Banks dominated for a short period, then more effective kerbside collections started to take over for an ever-growing range of materials. I like to think I have contributed to progress made, as outlined below, especially in the development of kerbside collections.
At the end of March 2017, I was able to take voluntary redundancy (from Somerset Waste Partnership) and begin an early active retirement. I am fortunate to live with my family in a great community in a lovely part of the country and plan to pursue a number of interests.
Dave Mansell – August 2017
The 1980s – Reigate and Norwich
After leaving school in 1979, I got work as a technician at Philips Research Laboratories and, more significantly, joined the local Friends of the Earth group in Reigate. Within a year, I was surprised to be asked if I would like to take over as the group’s co-ordinator. The group soon grew as we organised many campaigns, fundraising events and projects, including: town centre leafletting, a monthly waste paper collection, home insulation for the elderly, jumble sales, tree-planting, pond-clearing, publication of The Surrey Owl, and taking part in demonstrations, including at the annual International Whaling Commission meeting in Brighton.
After a sponsored cycle ride from Lands End to John O’Groats in summer 1983, I left Reigate for Norwich and the University of East Anglia to study for an environmental sciences degree; where I soon found myself running a new FoE local group and, in time, editing The Collective Mailing for four green groups. We organised termly weeks of action, many meetings with speakers and recycling collections from University residences.
During my second term, I supported the Vice President of the Students’ Union, Shantum Seth, to get a motion passed requiring the use of recycled paper for printing. Shantum secured initial supplies, but recycled paper was not readily available at the time. In my second year, I took over the sourcing of the recycled paper and extended its supply to a number of new users in the city, with bulk deliveries made to a shared rented house, where boxes were stacked to the ceiling of our living room. After a couple of years and earning enough to pay for the stock, I passed the operation on to The Greenhouse – a then newly established environment centre.
My undergraduate dissertation was an appraisal of Tyne Wear Wastesavers, which was one of a number of community sector recycling collections established in the 1980s under a job creation scheme called the Community Programme. My dissertation was short-listed for that year’s project prize.
After graduating with a (then rare) first in 1986, I was fortunate to be offered a scholarship to undertake postgraduate research on the economics of recycling collections. I was also fortunate to be able to combine this initially with a commission (funded by the City Council) for Cambridge FoE to research and produce a report on recycling collections. This was published in April 1987 and was kindly described in Materials Reclamation Weekly by Rev. Brown of CROP in Milton Keynes as “by far and way the best thing seen on the subject”.
Unfortunately, the Community Programme was ended by the government soon after and many of the community recycling schemes folded. A few were able to keep going, albeit with greatly reduced staffing levels, including one of the largest established by Avon Friends of the Earth in Bristol and neighbouring districts.
As a postgraduate for three years, I continued with some research on recycling and teaching on new economics, while continuing with campaigning activities. I also established a successful waste paper collection, with drop-offs from neighbours at my rented home, which was followed by 3 others in the city and, at that time, provided Norwich’s only public recycling collections for paper.
The 1990s – Sheffield, Cardiff, Dundee, York & Bath
In 1989, I was appointed as National Co-ordinator of the UK2000 Recycling City project for Friends of the Earth. This was a partnership project set-up by Trewin Restorick (now a founder and CEO of Hubbub), which had already been launched in Sheffield and was then about to launch the UK’s first modern kerbside collections on the city outskirts in Stocksbridge. Taking advice from packaging consultant, David Perchard, the collections were modelled on the Canadian Blue Box scheme.
I was involved, with Rebecca Gwynn-Jones, David Birley and Michael Connolly, in establishing the new Blue Box collections and, with Rebecca and others, in launching Cardiff and Dundee as the next Recycling Cities and Devon as a Recycling County.
In 1990, I joined York City Council, as their first Recycling Officer, developing a comprehensive network of collection banks throughout the city with industry partners, including early banks for textiles and collections for plastics, initially with BP.
In 1992, I joined Bath City Council, as their first Recycling Officer, where the City of Bath Recycling partnership with Avon Friends of the Earth was already providing monthly collections for paper, drinks cans, textiles and foil throughout the city. I greatly enjoyed working with Dick Perry, the Chair of Avon FoE, and Andy Cunningham, who managed the City of Bath Recycling collections.
Following the preparation and approval of a Recycling Plan, we launched a series of trials in 1994 to test the effectiveness of different frequencies of recycling collection and the provision of boxes or bags. These demonstrated a big effect from providing a collection container (box or bag) and that more frequent collections also increased material put out for recycling.
The Bath recycling trials won the first national recycling award at the 1994 Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) conference, which was followed with visits by, what felt like, recycling officers for every UK local authority and many community groups.
I had a central role in developing the design of the multi-material vehicles used for Bath’s new green box collections. These pioneered the use of removable stillages to keep materials separate, which were unloaded using a forklift with rotator. Previously, we were aware stillages were used by merchants to collect paper from printers and we had seen them used with a forklift and rotator to collect mixed materials in bags from kerbside collections in Cardiff.
Using data from the Bath trials, volumes were calculated for loading each material, including different colours of glass, into separate stillages. Originally, we planned to have a single tier of stillages all loaded from the vehicle sides, but we needed more capacity and so added a second layer of stillages and pavement-side steps to walk up on to the vehicle bed to load these. All glass and some paper was loaded from the roadside into lower stillages, so that heavy and breakable loads did not need to be lifted up on to the vehicle. The only materials collected mixed for depot sorting were aluminium and steel cans, with plastic bottles later added to the mix with support from Dairy Crest and advice from Recoup.
We also published an ending waste guide, promoted home composting with the Bath Organic Group, sold 1,000s of discounted home compost bins and were among the early adopters of multi-material collections from blocks of flats. With a contribution from home composting, Bath was one of the first local authorities to achieve the UK’s 25% recycling target, which had been set in 1989 by Bath’s MP, Chris Patten.
From 1994-99, I served on the national executive of LARAC, initially as media officer and then as the first policy officer. Kindred spirits on the executive were Sarah Wild (Oxfordshire) and Colin Kirkby (Cardiff) and good colleagues included Chris Davey and Paula Brooks (who a few years later interviewed me for a job in Somerset). During this period, I also sat on the DoE’s review group on the role of local authorities in recycling (1996-97) and was a member of UK-PROG (the Local Government Association’s packaging obligation liaison group).
In 1996, I got married and Bath City Council was replaced by the new Unitary Authority of Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES). I continued as Recycling Officer and, with Avon Friends of the Earth, we extended Bath’s weekly green box collections throughout what had been the neighbouring district of Wansdyke. I also prepared and gained approval for a waste strategy for the new authority and plans were discussed for a partnership to recycle packaging involving M&S, Recycle UK (packaging obligation arm of UK Waste), Avon FoE and B&NES.
In 1999, I became disillusioned with on-going upheaval at B&NES and (along with many others) left to start work as a self-employed consultant and an associate with MEL Research. I received commissions from Avon FoE and undertook a number of projects in B&NES, Bristol, Medway, Rochdale, Stroud and Torfaen. I also served, alongside Dominic Hogg, as a Technical Advisor to a House of Commons Select Committee inquiry on delivering sustainable waste management. With MEL, I organised a number of popular seminars on integrating recycling and refuse collections, which highlighted the benefits found by pioneers of alternating or fortnightly refuse collections.
The 2000s – Avon and Somerset
In 2000, I joined Avon FoE as one of three new Development Managers, working with Jude Andrews and Linda Hindley and our team leader, Andy Cunningham. My projects included research and trials on composting collections, including for food waste, and, from 2002, tendering for new kerbside collection contracts, including a successful bid for a jointly awarded contract by Somerset districts.
In 2002, I wrote a report on ‘Maximising Recycling Rates – Tackling Residuals’ with Dominic Hogg for the Community Recycling Network, which suggested that a conducive policy framework could allow recycling rates to double to 62% within a decade (as nearly achieved in Wales).
In April 2003, I was attracted back to working directly for local authorities, when I joined Somerset County Council as Recycling Development Officer, working with, amongst others, Matt Jones, Steve Palfrey, Paul Chiplen (all Somerset), Ian Maxwell (South Somerset) and Bruce Carpenter (Taunton Deane). The County and Districts had a strong record of working together and the post was intended to support partnership working between the two local government tiers, including on collections.
I only had a few months working on the other side of the fence to former Avon FoE colleagues, who were operating the recycling collections in four of Somerset’s five districts; as, sadly, Avon FoE went into receivership and their Somerset contracts were transferred to another community sector recycling enterprise, ECT Recycling CIC.
An early task at Somerset was the production of a Joint Municipal Waste Management Strategy, led by Matt Jones, and a series of member workshops. I contributed on recycling development and future targets. The strategy was completed and adopted in 2003 and was significant in directing waste policies in Somerset for the next 5-10 years and is still in place.
In 2004, I was centrally involved in preparing a successful bid for over £6m of funding from Defra to launch what became our Sort It collections in three Somerset districts and to enhance recycling services in the other two. Sort It put together previous interests and involved switching the frequency of recycling collections to weekly (from fortnightly) and switching refuse the other way to fortnightly, along with introducing the UK’s first large-scale separate food waste collections. It was a great success: recycling doubled, food waste yields were good, refuse halved and, to our initial surprise, our total waste reduced too. The reduction in waste was noteworthy as was the size of the food waste yields, which were twice those previously achieved by trials alongside weekly refuse collections. I had been confident higher food waste yields would result and it was great to see this realised, although even more could then and still now be achieved.
In 2005, SWP’s Sort It service with food waste collections won the best local authority initiative at the National Recycling Awards and the local authority award from The Composting Association. The service was recognised for being the first to successfully roll-out large scale food waste collections and for providing these as part of an integrated services package.
I was invited to speak about the collections at a large number of conferences and seminars, including at the LARAC Conference in 2005 and a LGA event in 2006. There was close interest from the assembly office and community sector in Wales, with invitations to speak at Welsh conferences in 2005 and 2006. I gave presentations at many other events, especially in the period up to 2010, and, in 2009, Welsh local authorities organised a group visit to view and her about our collections in Somerset. Although two among many, I also particularly recall visits from Bristol and East Devon, who then said they planned to closely follow our collections model.
In Somerset during 2004-06, I was seconded to both South Somerset and Taunton Deane councils to assist with the Sort It roll-outs.
Our attention then moved to preparations for combining the waste teams of all Somerset authorities into a single team, reporting to a new joint waste board, and, especially, the procurement of a new combined collections contract, both very ably advised and assisted by Joe Papineschi from Eunomia, with leading roles also taken by Bruce Carpenter and Lesley Rowan (Mendip). The new Somerset Waste Partnership was established in 2007 with the new single collection contract awarded to ECT Recycling CIC. Previously, there had been nine collection contracts in Somerset held by ECT, Cleanaway and a DSO.
I had already been working as interim Strategy Team Leader for Somerset County Council and became the Strategy and Communications Team Leader for the new SWP. Our new MD was Steve Read from Project Integra in Hampshire. Bruce Carpenter (before a secondment to May Gurney/Kier) and Colin Mercer managed collection services and David Oaten managed the recycling centres and disposal contract with Viridor. Initially, my team included Beth Prince, Julie Searle and Emma-Sophie Gerrish, who were soon joined by Mark Blaker as our new communications officer.
While Bruce, Colin and others focused on establishing new collection operations, the communications and strategy team prepared and put a new communications plan in place and planned for trials with ECT to add bulky plastic bottles and cardboard to our recycling collections. Amongst other things, we also ran waste prevention campaigns, prepared design guidance for housing developers on waste services requirements and launched the UK’s first end-use register to record annually how waste was recycled.
The Sort It Plus trials in 2008 tested weekly and fortnightly recycling and new collection vehicle options. These included a split-back compactor (with plastic bottles and cans on one side and card on the other) with a pod behind the cab for food waste. A (by then) traditional stillage vehicle was used to collect other dry materials and food waste on alternate weeks. Also tested were two new designs of stillage vehicles for all materials, with one of the later designs proving the best option. A single vehicle pass for dry recycling and food waste was found to be the most efficient and cost-effective option, so allowing weekly recycling collections to continue.
To monitor and evaluate the trials, we worked with Julian Parfitt, a former postgraduate friend from university days, who had then joined ECT and now works for Anthesis.
During 2008, ECT Recycling was taken over by May Gurney, which initially looked like a continuation of business as usual in Somerset with the same ECT team.
To make the new Sort It Plus collections affordable to all of our district partners, several sources of additional funding were put in place by our MD Steve Read with my support. These included enhanced recycling credits from the county council for disposal savings and, most noteworthy, funding from Marks & Spencer for additional packaging to be recycled. This reflected the amount of packaging they used and much of the material was recycled back through their packaging suppliers. At my suggestion, the arrangement built on the earlier proposals that had been discussed for B&NES with Avon FoE in the 1990s.
Eventually, affordable costs for our partner authorities were agreed with May Gurney and the roll-out of the new Sort It Plus collections began in September 2009, adding cardboard and plastic bottles to Somerset’s kerbside collections and introducing the Sort It arrangements to the other two districts, with West Somerset being the last in 2011.
By 2009, my family and I had moved to a new home outside of Taunton, installed solar panels on the roof, and settled into a great new community at Wiveliscombe.
The 2010s – Staying in Somerset and Austerity
At work, following the banking failures and credit crunch in 2008, austerity resulted in increasing quests for savings throughout the 2010s.
Early soft targets included reductions to communications budgets and, regrettably, to stop funding the excellent education team established at the Carymoor Environmental Trust, who adapted commendably and continue to thrive.
We also reviewed Somerset’s joint waste strategy, but, in the end, made no changes and renewed our aspiration to work towards 70% recycling. Alternatives to landfill for waste disposal were considered, but, our strategic disposal partner, Viridor, showed that local landfill in Somerset remained the least costly option, despite increasing Landfill Tax. Energy from waste still had higher costs at that time, and, arguably these should be even higher, as incineration does not (yet) have to pay a tax on it’s carbon emissions. The methane released by landfills is a problem and contributes to climate change, but as much as possible (probably about half), is captured in Somerset and used as biogas to power turbines to generate electricity.
In 2012, a number of savings were taken at Somerset’s Recycling Centres, including to reduce opening hours, charge for some materials not classed as household waste and to shut four sites (two of which were saved by introducing entry fees). This was very effective in reducing costs, especially as the changes also led to a reduction of 40% in waste taken to Somerset’s recycling centres. Only a small amount was transferred to refuse bins and there was not a significant increase in fly-tipping. Some of the reduction was due to less business waste being deposited as household waste at sites. Some may have been due to householders wasting less or taking less to recycling centres and keeping it at home, possibly stored in garages or put on compost heaps. Over time, waste levels at sites have started to increase again, so some is returning.
Food waste yields from our long-established collections were also slightly falling, but a waste composition study in 2009 had shown that food waste in refuse bins had fallen too, which suggested that less food was being wasted as households tightened their belts.
But a further composition study in 2012 revealed that food waste in refuse had started to grow slightly, while yields from our recycling collections were continuing to slowly fall. This caused some concern, as did the repeated finding that about half of the rubbish in refuse bins could be recycled through current kerbside services.
By far, our biggest opportunity to make savings was to increase recycling and divert materials from refuse, which costs Somerset over £12m every year in disposal costs.
SWP was therefore pleased to apply for new funding available from WRAP to research and test improvements to food waste collections in 2013. Our bid was amongst those to be successful. Surveys were undertaken to identify barriers to using food waste collections, which was followed, in Somerset, by trials to test the distribution of free caddy liners and putting ‘no food waste stickers’ on refuse bins. Rounds with the stickers were particularly successful and increased food waste yields by 20%, while providing free caddy liners appeared to have little effect – at least in Somerset.
SWP had a very long-running service review during 2013-14, after which I was appointed to a new position of Development and Monitoring Manager, and a number of other changes were made to how SWP was structured.
In early 2015, we were awarded more WRAP funding to test the distribution of liners, stickers and leaflets throughout half of Somerset (about 110,000 households). I managed the project and it was quite a challenge as it had to be completed by the end of the financial year on 31 March 2015, but we took on an increasing number of agency staff to do the work and got the job done. We were rewarded by a 20% uplift in food waste yields, which has still been maintained, and a strong impression that the bin lid stickers had done most to prompt the improved participation.
Between the food waste improvement trials, I managed another set of trials to test improvements to Somerset’s collection services by recycling more. These trials were first proposed in 2013 and eventually launched in September 2014. On nine recycling rounds in Taunton Deane, we tested the addition of plastic pots, tubs and trays (PTT), cartons, small electricals and batteries to our recycling collections. On some of these, we continued weekly recycling and fortnightly refuse collections, on some we switched the recycling to fortnightly and on two we switched refuse to three-weekly while keeping recycling weekly.
Despite some initial concerns among residents, the three-weekly refuse collections worked fine and most householders became more interested in the extra recycling allowed. At the end of trials, after three months, 86% responded to a survey to say they would prefer for the Recycle More trials to continue, rather than go back to the previous arrangements with fewer materials recycled and refuse collected fortnightly.
We appointed Eunomia to assess a wide variety of collection methods, including comingled and streamed collections, and negiotated with our collection contractor, Kier, on making changes to our collection services. Eventually, after assessing numerous collection options and, over time, receiving several new submissions from Kier, all of our partner authorities and our joint board agreed to adopt new Recycle More collections from October 2017, involving:
- weekly recycling collections with more plastics, small electricals and batteries added;
- a new reusable bag (for plastics and cans) provided alongside the existing two recycling boxes and food bin; and
- three-weekly refuse collections.
My last major task for SWP was to finalise the contract changes to put the new collections into effect, following agreement on the main details with Kier in December 2016 and approval from Somerset Waste Board and all the partner authorities. Operational colleagues at SWP are due to implement the new services once the arrangements are fully finalised, but it now appears likely that there may yet be delays.
If I had stayed at SWP, my long-term hope, after Recycle More, had been to see how far we could sensibly push recycling and what more we could achieve through waste avoidance. However, the prospects for further progress diminished with previous cuts, on-going budget pressures and a lack of support from central government. Also needed are much greater efforts by producers, possibly led by major retailers and brand-owners (or the EU), to design packaging for reuse and recycling, and for consumer products to be better designed for long-life and repair.
In recent years outside of work, I have returned to pursuing a range of local and wider environmental interests. I was finance director for Brendon Energy, a local renewable energy co-op, and am still an active member. I have promoted solar power and energy saving in and around our small town, including through the Wivey Energy website. I was a founder of Wivey Action on Climate & Environment in 2014 and continued as the group’s secretary until July 2019.
I intended to have an active retirement, as well as spending more time with my family and on leisure pursuits.
In February 2017, I was co-opted to our Town Council. In April 2018, I stood in a by-election and was elected as a Green Party Councillor for the Wiveliscombe and West Deane ward to Taunton Deane Borough Council. I was re-elected in May 2019 to the larger Wiveliscombe and District ward on the new Somerset West and Taunton Council, formed by a merger between TDBC and West Somerset Council. See A Green View for Wiveliscombe and District for information on my work as district councillor.
Further details on recycling initiatives
There is further detailed information on most of the recycling initiatives described above, including the ‘no food waste’ stickers and Somerset’s new Recycle More collections, in reports available on this website.