Challenges of Recruitment in the Waste Management Sector

by | Jun 6, 2011

The pressure within the UK to provide cost-effective environmentally sustainable waste management has never been so great.  Traditionally local authorities have relied on landfill as a cheap and local way of getting rid of waste but the supply of landfill sites is finite and unsustainable in the long-term. Due to increasing pressure from the European Union and targets set by the new Waste Framework Directive, an economical and sustainable waste management policy is needed to avoid heavy penalties for not complying with these EU Directives.  The Waste Framework Directive requires that 50% of all household waste is recycled and in order to achieve this target the UK needs to build and operate specific large-scale recycling units and update its waste management infrastructure.

Significant inroads have been made into this recycling and waste reduction already, as every household with curbside collection will confirm, however more initiatives are required to hit these ambitious targets.  The launch of a multi-million pound waste infrastructure fund was announced by Boris Johnson at the beginning of climate week on March 21st and is one of many pioneering schemes that will help make London and the UK as a whole, a world leader in finding new ways to manage waste.

The fund aims to provide investment for projects that will help utilize the massive value of the UK’s waste through initiatives such as power plants to convert waste biomass to clean energy and facilities for recycling waste products such as food and plastics.  Interestingly, this initiative focuses particularly on how to exploit the cash value of waste and use it to generate green energy whilst creating jobs and developing valuable exportable skills.

With this move towards more economic ways to deal with the worlds waste, comes a heightened demand for waste management and energy from waste professionals (EfW).

£2 Billion-a-Year Building Boom in EfW Plants Nationally over the Next 15 Years

In terms of the effect that this move will have on the recruitment sector, we anticipate an increase in candidates with transferable skills gaining successful employment.

For example, experience and skills gained from landfill, power plant and engineering projects are able to be put to use within these newly created EfW opportunities including EfW Project Management roles. Whilst chemical engineering and chemical processing skills can be transferred to Bioenergy roles, providing the candidate with a move towards the sustainable, renewable energy area of waste management.

Energy from Waste Could Provide a Fifth of the UK’s Electricity Needs

It is crucial that the UK invest in alternatives to fossil fuels. Using waste as fuel can have important environmental benefits.  It can not only provide a safe and cost-effective way of waste disposal but can also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

As waste management climbs the political and environmental agenda, industry experts respond with other innovative ways of processing waste, for example anaerobic digestion, the latest method of in-vessel treatment of waste.  One of the most recent commissions is the farm-scale anaerobic digestion plant at Reaseheath College Cheshire, which is based on two small scale, low capital systems and can be replicated commercially on farms or in horticultural businesses.

Waste professionals with a plant design, construction or an operations background may be able to benefit from these new opportunities, says my colleague, Irfan Lohiya, Waste Recruitment Specialist at Allen & York.  In addition, waste management opportunities within the clean tech and clean energy areas are also likely to increase as the UK becomes armed with the funds that can greatly increase the move to a low carbon economy. Simon Brooks, European Investment Bank Vice President for the United Kingdom said: ‘Using waste to generate clean energy can be an important element to the contribution to climate action.’

The Management of Waste is One of the Key Themes of ‘Sustainable Development’

The UK is making significant steps towards making the waste industry more sustainable.  Major improvements have occurred in the UK; in 1997 only 7% of England’s household waste was recycled. It has almost quadrupled to 27% in 2010 – a tremendous achievement by the public and local authorities.  94% of households now receive a doorstep collection service from their local council for recyclable materials and there has been a 50% expansion in kerbside recycling services in just one year, from 2009 to 2010. The UK EfW sector is undergoing unprecedented changes, with stakeholders having to constantly adapt to new legislation and evolving market forces. The concept “zero waste” is gaining prominence as the Government seeks to encourage waste prevention.

The Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM) Claims the Sector Is Expected to Almost Double its Workforce by 2017 in Recycling Alone

Employment opportunities in waste management have traditionally been within the public sector at local and national government, regulation within the Environment Agency, and the industrial land fill sector within waste disposal companies, says Lohiya.  However, with the development of sustainable waste management strategies, focusing on better uses for resources by collecting, sorting, recycling, remanufacturing and refurbishing materials, new opportunities have arisen for employment in the recycling and consulting arena. Research undertaken by the Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory (WAMITAB) identified a total of 65,000 jobs in waste management, and recycling is one of the main sub divisions continuing to show growth.

Reflecting the waste management industry’s drive to enhance standards of skill and training across the sector, a major initiative is already under way at WINTO – Waste Industry National Training Organisation, with the development of a workforce development plan for the waste sector.  It highlights relevant priorities for the area and specifies how to achieve greater success for employees and employers.

Future Opportunities in Waste

Europe maintains a strong position in the global recycling market. The UK’s first fully integrated plastic packaging sorting and recycling facility has launched this February 2011, which demonstrates not only the environmental benefits, but also the commercial and technological viability for mixed plastics recycling.

Germany has also been a key contributor to Europe’s strong position due to its technological leadership as well as strong commitment to addressing environmental concerns such as waste management through active legislation, it is anticipated that recycling in the region will get a boost from 2011 onwards.

Victoria Kenrick is a specialist at Allen & York, a leading international Sustainability Recruitment consultancy, offering jobs in Environment, CSR & Sustainability, Renewable Energy and Carbon Management, plus Health and Safety Management. To explore the latest career opportunities and Allen & York’s services to employers, please visit the website at:

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