Saying goodbye to the Gardyloo culture

As a student I was ‘fortunate’ to go on a trip on the MV Gardyloo, the sewage ship which sailed from Leith three times a week to dump Edinburgh’s sewage out in the North Sea.

Written By Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland  |  4 Dec 13

 A memorable trip, my purpose was to view seabirds rather than comment on a practice which was soon to be stopped as new legislation was brought in in 1990.  The name of the ship Gardyloo was a throwback to a previous time where Edinburgh residents shouted ‘watch the water’ as they threw their ‘slops’ out of the window on to the street below; again a practice consigned to history as a greater environmental protection measures have come in.

I reflected on this as I passed through our city streets last week witnessing the usual collection of plastic rubbish bags piled up at street corners waiting for to be collected.  It was evident that the sacks and bins lurking nearby were a combination of waste and recycling all ‘thrown out’ by businesses at closing time in the expectation that they will be ‘washed away’ during the night. In some respect the Gardyloo approach hasn’t really gone away.  A friend sent me an arresting visual blog – Glas Trash – which reinforces this point better than any words I could write.

My hope is that the new waste regulations which come into force in Scotland on January 1st 2014 will change this. The new regulations should not just be about encouraging more recycling from businesses but should also herald a new approach to waste management where the collection companies see an opportunity to engage meaningfully with their customer base to tailor services which they are now crying out for.

Indeed, a recent event I attended with Edinburgh businesses about the forthcoming regulations, based around a new research report compiled by award-winning compostable packaging company Vegware, highlighted this very issue. None of those present had any problem with the new regulations and the need to separate key materials out for recycling even food waste.  To them the case was well made, with many already becoming compliant ahead of the January deadline and recognising cost savings across their business.  They were also recognising the need for waste prevention activities first and foremost and seeing the opportunity to engage with staff around the potential for cost savings.  The issue they still had was the interface with the collection system being offered by their contractor.  There was some frustration around having to place sacks outside their business premises at the end of the day or dragging bins on to the pavement at the convenience of the contractor, rather than the business and their customers.  There was also the added issue of often returning the next morning to find burst bags and their contents emptied out on the pavement, requiring cleaning up.

There is clearly a desire from the business community for new service models that meet their needs.   This is a huge opportunity for contractors to differentiate themselves in the market by offering innovative and tailored solutions.   Scotland’s Resource Sector Commitment, our voluntary initiative now signed up to by 13 leading contractors, provides a framework for this, commits signatories to delivering a quality service, which is compliant with the new Regulations is based around proactive engagement with the customer. 

2014 will be a significant year for Scotland for many reasons. My vision is that it becomes the year we move on from our Gardyloo approach to commercial waste and harness some real innovation.  Limiting the number of sacks and bins on the street will demonstrate to the visiting world that we value our resources and care about our communities.

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