A brief history of Somerset Waste Partnership

Somerset Waste Partnership (SWP) was established in its current form in 2007 to manage waste services on behalf of its six partners; Somerset County Council, as the waste disposal authority, and the five waste collection authorities of Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, South Somerset District Council, West Somerset District Council, and Taunton Deane Borough Council.

SWP combines waste service functions under a single joint committee of 12 councillors –  two from each partner council – and has delegated authority from its partners to deliver household waste and recycling services throughout Somerset to more  than 250,000 properties, including management of kerbside collections, recycling sites, treatment and disposal contracts. The SWP has, in effect, created a “virtual joint waste authority”, awarding a single county-wide collections contract.

Benefits are extensive, including efficiency savings of over £1.5m per annum, increased recycling rates, high levels of satisfaction, increased resources, and good quality materials for recycling.

It is considered that the significant benefits of consistent services across a jointly served area make it worthwhile to make the effort to agree a joint approach to service delivery. Solutions are sought that benefit all partners, but also accommodate local distinctness where necessary without negating the benefits of joint working.

Key facts
• Efficiency savings of over £1.5m per annum through reduced collection costs and infrastructure rationalisation.
• A further £225,000 in savings from the creation of a single management team, plus an estimated £942,000 avoided future costs.
• Increased recycling rate to 52.85% (2015/16).
• High level of material quality reported.
• 89% resident satisfaction in recycling service (2015).

The authorities have a long history of working together. The partnership was originally formed in 1992 when the six authorities identified the benefits of sharing resources and planning collectively. This relationship was strengthened in 1997 with the agreement of a memorandum of understanding. During 2000-02, it was developed further when a joint best value review was undertaken, which entailed a detailed examination of approaches to improve collection and disposal services. A joint procurement of kerbside recycling services followed, with each district awarding their own contract but procuring together and working to a common set of specifications.

Relationships strengthened

In October 2007, this co-operation was taken a step further when Somerset became the first county-wide area to combine waste service functions under a single joint committee of councillors from all Somerset local authorities.

The motivation for closer working stemmed from a key finding of the best value review in 2002, and the subsequent joint municipal waste management strategy, which identified the need to address the potential difficulties in collection service created by working within waste collection authority (WCA) administrative boundaries and between WCA and waste disposal authority (WDA) responsibilities.

Delivering a harmonised service under a single partnership contract focused on:
• Improving performance across the partnership as a whole;
• Achieving a more efficient service by maximising opportunities for optimisation in terms of designing rounds and depot locations without constraints of district boundaries;
• Meeting growing customer expectations in relation to the kerbside service available and the range of material collected;
• Addressing adverse market conditions in relation to waste collection procurements; and,
• Meeting regulation requirements.

Working better together

In 2004, the opportunity to procure a Somerset-wide collection contract for all recycling and refuse collections was identified and a business case was developed that identified potential savings of £750k to £1.5m per year.

In 2007, this opportunity was realised when SWP procured a single contact to provide a fully integrated waste collection and recycling service for the whole county with the aim, at the time, of achieving:
• 50% recycling rate across Somerset by 2010 and 65%+ by 2020;
• Increased diversion of organics and other material from landfill;
• Improved waste minimisation;
• High levels of customer satisfaction; and
• High levels of efficiency/productivity to deliver best value cost per household.


The standard service that is currently provided across all districts is:
• Green box for paper, glass bottles and jars, collected weekly;
• Black box for food and drink cans, aerosols, plastic bottles, cardboard and aluminium foil, collected weekly;
• Kitchen caddy and external caddy bin for food waste, collected weekly;
• Black 180l wheeled bin for residual waste, collected fortnightly; and,
• Green 180l wheeled bin or brown compostable paper sack for garden waste. This is a subscription service, and collection is fortnightly.

Textiles and shoes can also be collected alongside the dry recyclate boxes.

Different service arrangements are in place for flats (which represent less than 5% of Somerset households). However, SWP is aiming for a consistent service to be provided to all householders across Somerset, regardless of property type.

Residents with no space for residual bins can use their own refuse sacks. There is also some flexibility in the size of bin provided; with smaller 140 litre refuse bins offered and additional capacity on application for larger households or those with special needs.

Food waste

The history of working together provided a solid foundation for the SWP to build upon and meant that over time districts had adopted a similar approach to kerbside recycling collection. In 2004, SWP secured funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to introduce integrated organic waste collections.

As a result, three districts introduced weekly recycling and new food waste collections and switched refuse to fortnightly (with standard 180l bins). The districts introduced fortnightly chargeable garden waste collections at same time. This proved to be a great success with recycling rates doubling, residual waste yields halving and a total reduction in collection arisings of about 15%.

Compositional analysis has shown that this reduction in collection arisings was primarily as a consequence of reducing quantities of food waste and an increase in home composting.

The other two districts, while not part of the original scheme, also implemented fortnightly chargeable garden waste collection and added further materials to their kerbside recycling service, including glass. Efforts were made to ensure service arrangements were aligned, with a wide range of collection options evaluated, before a single common approach was agreed.

Following the development of a business case, agreement was made to procure a Somerset-wide collection contract with a start date planned for October 2007. A single management team was created and the joint Somerset Waste Board (SWB) was established with an inter-authority agreement and shared funding formula.

During the preparation period, a harmonisation plan was developed and implemented to ensure service rules between districts were consistent where possible. This was important for the standardisation of the service.

It is worth noting that the opportunity to procure a Somerset-wide collection contract was partly linked to the end of several of the existing recycling and refuse collection contracts in 2007. This opportunity also created time pressures as partners had to have replacement arrangements in place for a fixed date. The collection contract was initially for seven years with the option of two further extensions of seven years – potentially 21 years in all.

During 2009-11 all districts adopted a new common service package with weekly recycling of a consistent set of materials (paper, cardboard, glass bottles and jars, food and drink cans, plastic bottles, aerosols, and foil) plus food waste alongside fortnightly refuse and subscription based garden waste collection.

The common service package approach was important in bringing service delivery systems together with the full consent of all partner authorities. To facilitate the implementation of this there was a three-year period for all six authorities to move from the pre-contract service (minimum level of service for all authorities) into the complete harmonisation of all aspects of the service.

Overcoming challenges

Procuring as a partnership can be a challenge when going to market. At the time, there were no examples of other partnership contracts having been successful. However, the history of joint working meant the SWP could present an established waste partnership with a proven track record of working well together through robust partnership governance arrangements. In addition, any concerns from the bidders that a partnership contract would have extensive variations and combinations to take into account the preferences of the different authorities were quickly abated when SWP presented a high level of service standardisation across partner authorities that would enable a simpler bidding model.

Representatives from all six SWP authorities were involved in the evaluation at every stage, ensuring all partners were fully engaged in the process. The potential challenges of going to market as a partnership were significantly outweighed by the advantages. No single authority in Somerset would have been able to resource the level of time and specialist knowledge required to conduct the procurement or offer a contract that would have been so attractive to the waste industry.

Another challenge to working in partnership and adopting a consistent approach across all authorities can be recognising and accepting that financial benefits may not be equitable across all partners. SWP found that adopting the viewpoint of the council tax payer (at district and county level) has been helpful and puts attention on finding the best overall system.

Benefits of the unified consistent service under a single contract are extensive. In terms of performance, recycling rates for the SWP have risen alongside service improvements to 52.85% in 2015/16.

In financial terms, the contract delivered annual revenue equivalent savings of around £1.51m, derived from both a reduction in waste collection costs and the rationalisation of waste disposal infrastructure, including the designing out of two waste transfer stations. Collection rounds were planned for efficiency from depots and not to match district boundaries. This meant collection could be optimised and vehicle numbers and associated crews reduced compared to operating as individual authorities.

A further saving of £225,000 came from establishing a single management team across all authorities, and it is also estimated that savings in the order of £942,000 have been realised as a consequence of avoided future costs through procuring a single contract rather than five separate contracts across the individual districts.

With WCA and WDA services planned together, cost shunting (without compensation) is not accepted between partners and the most efficient and cost effective solutions for the whole waste system are found. Communication costs are lower as common materials and service arrangements are in place across the SWP and one website covers all six authorities. Benefits have also extended to material quality, which is rated “high”, with most material supplied to UK reprocessors.

In terms of householder satisfaction, SWP has undertaken a customer survey every three years since 2009. This has included questions on service satisfaction, commitment to recycling and food waste reduction and other questions relevant to projects at the time. Satisfaction levels with the current kerbside recycling service are high, with 89% reported in 2015.

“Operating the same service across the whole county simplifies things for residents, elected members who represent them and the contractor who delivers the service. When communicating we don’t need to be concerned about newspaper circulation areas or the reach of local radio. If you live anywhere in Somerset the message is for you. And working with a single contractor to deliver a consistent service over the last eight years has saved Somerset councils over £12m.”
Steve Read, former Managing Director of SWP. [July 2007 to May 2017]

Another benefit of coming together as a partnership and working collectively has been the ability to build upon internal resources. SWP has employed specialist officers to plan and manage trials, and work with external agencies. This has enabled trials to collect additional materials at the kerbside for recycling, including more plastics, cartons, small waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and batteries and to test a three-weekly refuse service, which will inform future decisions.

Looking to the future

SWB has agreed and SWP is planning both a new collection service model and a new energy recovery solution for residual waste. Further common service improvements continue to be jointly planned with approval from all authorities, such as providing enhanced recycling services for flats and for schools, and a campaign to boost food waste recycling by attaching “no food waste” stickers to refuse bins.

 A timeline of waste services in Somerset

  • 1992 – Six councils identified benefits of sharing resources and collective planning
  • 1997 (Sept) – All six councils sign memorandum of understanding
  • 2002 (May) – Formation of Somerset Waste Action Programme with Carymoor Environmental Trust
  • 2002 (Oct) – Launch of kerbside services of recyclables into boxes
  • 2003 (Jun) – Wake up to Waste campaign launched by Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis
  • 2004 (May) – Highbridge recycling centre opened by the then Minister for the Environment
  • 2004 (May) – Plastic bottle recycling facilities rolled out to recycling sites
  • 2003-2004 – SWP secured £5m Defra funding to introduce integrated organic waste collections,
    • Districts begin introducing collections of dry recycling weekly in kerbside boxes, food weekly in lockable bins, rubbish fortnightly in wheeled bins, and fortnight paid-for garden waste
  • 2005 (Oct) – Opening of the new Taunton Priorswood Recycling Centre.
  • 2006 (Feb) – Battery recycling facilities rolled out across recycling sites
  • 2007 (Aug) – Drink carton recycling introduced to recycling sites
  • 2007 (Oct) – SWP procured a single contract to provide a fully integrated kerbside collections service
  • 2007 (Oct) – Somerset Waste Board formed as a joint committee of councillors from all Somerset local authorities
  • 2007 (Oct) –  Formation of Somerset Waste Partnership, single management team
  • 2008 (Nov) – SWP achieves recycling rate of 50.9% (joint kerbside and recycling sites for 2007/08)
  • 2009 (Jan) – New Chard Recycling Centre opened
  • 2009 (Feb) – SWP publishes first-ever end-use register, for 2007/8
  • 2009 (Oct) – Business recycling facilities begin at Williton Recycling Centre, and are rolled out to another nine sites from December 2014
  • 2009/10/11 – Sort It Plus is rolled out across all districts, adding cardboard and plastic bottles to weekly kerbside collections
  • 2011 (Apr) – Introduction of cash entry payments at  Crewkerne, Coleford, Dulverton and Middlezoy community recycling sites to help keep them open
  • 2011 (Apr) – Introduction of new recycling site opening hours (with two-day closures) and commodity charging (gas bottles, tyres, hardcore)
  • 2012 (Jun) – Three new materials added to kerbside collections: aerosols, kitchen towel with food, and textiles with clothing
  • 2012 (May) – Cooking oil introduced across recycling sites
  • 2013 (Apr) – Food waste collections offered to schools
  • 2013 (Aug) – Walpole anaerobic digestion plant opens to transform food into power and farm compost
  • 2013 (Nov) – Opening of the Reuse Shop within Taunton Recycling Centre
  • 2014 (Apr) – Closure of Coleford and Middlezoy community recycling sites; opening hours extended at five main sites to 8am-4pm, seven  days a week
  • 2014 (Sept- Dec) – Recycle More trials in Taunton, Wellington and Wiveliscombe
  • 2016 (April) – Introduction of plasterboard and asbestos disposing charges
  • 2016 (Oct) – Introduction of vehicle and trailer permits for recycling site entry
  • 2016 (Nov) – Water-based paint recycling introduced across recycling sites
  • 2017 (Mar) – New energy-from-waste contract signed to divert all Somerset household rubbish from landfill burial
  • 2017 (Sep) – Cashless payments rolled out across all recycling sites

A few of our awards from across the years

  • 2004 – Chartered Institution of Wastes Management Green Apple Award for Environmental Partnership for the Wake up to Waste campaign
  • 2005 – Waste Management & Recycling Awards, Best Recycling Centre,  Highbridge Recycling Centre
  • 2005 – Local Authority Award
  • 2005 – Best Local Authority Initiative, Sort It collection service
  • 2005 – National Recycling Award 2005
  • 2006 – Chartered Institution of Wastes Management Green Apple Award for Environmental Partnership
  • 2010 – Plant and Waste Recycling Awards, Food Waste Award
  • 2011 – National Recycling Awards, Best Partnership Project for Recycling, Packaging Recycling, Marks and Spencer and Somerset Waste Partnership
  • 2013 – Closed Loop Exemplar award, Marks and Spencer and SWP