The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: Sustainable resource management in households

Currently Active: 
Yes

The modern waste industry is one of the most dynamic and fast-changing business sectors. In Europe, the first decade of the 21st Century has seen a substantial number of environmental and waste directives, with an emphasis on increased producer responsibility, waste minimization, recycling, high technology incineration and landfill management.

Project Overview

Household collection services
Household collection services

As a consequence, there is a greater requirement on the waste sector to operate to higher standards of professionalism and to incorporate best practice and new technologies in all activities, including greater use of academic research to influence decision-making. Because local authorities (LAs) are central to the delivery of effective waste management in the UK, it is important that their views, knowledge, experiences and skills are captured, utilized and incorporated into research programmes. Professor Ian Williams in particular has championed the development and delivery of collaborative research studies where LAs and universities have co-operated successfully to mutual benefit on research projects to deliver sustainable resource management in households.

Waste management has historically suffered from a poor image and has traditionally been viewed as a public service that focuses on efficient collection and disposal. Whilst this image may have been appropriate in an age when disposal was the main focus; dilute and disperse was the accepted "pollution control" technique and waste sites were largely unlicensed and uncontrolled, this is no longer the case, and the modern waste industry can now lay claim to being one of the most dynamic and fast-changing business sectors.

Recycling garden waste
Recycling garden waste

In Europe, the last decade has seen a substantial number of environmental and waste directives, with an emphasis on increased producer responsibility, waste minimization, recycling, high technology incineration and landfill management. As a consequence, there is a greater requirement on the waste sector to operate to higher standards of professionalism and to incorporate best practice and new technologies in all activities, including: the development of national and local strategies; the use of targets and performance indicators, benchmarking and league tables; and greater use of academic research to influence decision-making.

These changes reflect society's desire to manage our resources better and to protect the environment, locally as well as globally. Waste management is now a multi-disciplinary subject, incorporating: civil engineering, environmental science and engineering, politics, economics, urban and rural planning, law, industrial ecology, social science, advertising, marketing, design, technology and even the creative arts.

household recycling centres
household recycling centres

 In fact, waste management has never had a higher public profile, and although it is a relatively young academic subject, there has been a tremendous amount of research activity over the last decade. Some of this activity has focused on implementing new ideas and technologies, such as energy-from-waste, food waste collection and anaerobic digestion, and some on the optimisation of existing technologies and operations, such waste prevention, re-use, collection and treatment systems and the role of financial incentives to drive behaviour change. Because LAs are central to the delivery of effective waste management in the UK, it is important that their views and experiences are captured, utilized and incorporated into research programmes.

Ian Williams and Peter Shaw have worked with a large number of local authorities on a range of waste management projects. These research projects include:

  • Waste management at civic amenity sites.
  • Waste management in medium-and high-density housing.
  • Development and evaluation of recycling services.
  • Development and evaluation of waste collection services.
  • Social, cultural and structural influences on participation in recycling.
  • Encouraging behaviour change.
  • Potential health and environmental impacts of municipal solid waste.
  • Carbon footprinting the waste sector.
Ian Williams(L) and Tony Curran (R)
Ian Williams(L) and Tony Curran(R)

These research projects have led to a large number of significant improvements to public recycling behaviours, infrastructure and professional services. These include substantial increases in recycling rates; introduction of annual customer surveys at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs); changes to professional waste management contracts for services and employment; gain of Charter Mark status for HWRCs; generation of jobs and apprenticeships; improved, more efficient and cost-effective infrastructure and services, reduction of crime, cross-border and trade abuse at HWRCs; aesthetic improvements to waste management facilities and local environment.

The projects have led to awards that recognize the quality of the studies, including:

  • The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Baker Medal for 2010 was awarded to Ian Williams (with Catherine Alexander, Chris Smaje and Rose Timlett) for their paper on "Improving social technologies for recycling."
  • Ian Williams and Tony Curran were awarded the CIWM James Jackson Award for 2006 for their paper on "An evaluation of council bulky waste collection services in England."

Related research groups

Centre for Environmental Sciences
Waste Management

Publications

Key Publications

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