Thursday, March 31, 2016

Standards Vs Innovation

It’s never easy is it? Everywhere you look there are tensions between competing interests, and those in charge have to make decisions on which is the best way forward. So we get fluctuations between times when centralisation and conformity is considered to be in our best interests followed by times when Localisation and diversity is the dominant philosophy. And all the while we have people moaning about “red tape”, regulations and bureaucracy stifling innovation while at the same time creating even more “red tape”, regulations and bureaucracy.

Sandy Rodger over at the RSA sums it up quite well.
Does my local town have its own unique mains electricity plugs? Does the London Borough of Camden choose to drive on the right? Does each train company set its wheels to its own chosen distance between the rails, optimised for its own rail routes? No. Even in our chaotic and innovative world, we have standards, where being the same as the next town, or all the towns, is more useful than being “better.” Even the super-innovative world of IT has standards. I have lots of cables, which at one end are all different, and at the other end all the same – the USB plug.
This is the introduction to a piece where Sandy argues for the same approach to be applied to recycling everywhere in the UK to achieve a truly circular economy. Read all about it here.


Meanwhile Viridor have published a new report titled “Building English Resource Networks:
The Aggregated Services Model” in which they argue that our current resource management systems are no longer fit for purpose.
Recycling policy remains largely based on outdated assumptions about resources which reinforce expensive, resource management systems that were designed in a different age for a bygone era when collections were based on geographic areas and an overall objective of reducing transport costs.
Even now decisions about collections, contracts and infrastructure are still often based on arbitrary political boundaries by authorities not focused on the value of resources to the national economy. This, together with a lack of central government strategy and common standards, simply reinforces a wasteful system rather than seeks to resolve its inefficiencies.
And so we come to Rory Stewart, the environment minister, the man in charge and responsible for deciding between conformity and diversity when it comes to recycling. And he seems to be on the same wavelength as reported here in the Telegraph.
"In London alone, we could probably save £19 million a year if we had a single standard recycling system. Across the country as a whole, the savings would be extraordinary."
"We spend more than £3 billion a year simply collecting waste. If we had a single, harmonised system across the country, we could drive up recycling rates, massively reduce the cost for ratepayers and achieve extraordinary things for the environment and for councils themselves." However, he said that the "challenge" was "making sure that the system is comprehensible to the public and something to which the public can respond and relate".
Unfortunately, as the report makes clear, he hasn’t yet worked out precisely what this new system should be and even if he does get round to it, he’s then got the really difficult task of implementing it.

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