Partnerships: The role of PR and stakeholder partnerships in driving sustainable waste management


A senior figure in the UK Government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) once said, “Waste is a communication business, not just a logistics business.” This is so very true, although, until recently, most would not have agreed with it, as we are reliant on public cooperation to recycle and their understanding and acceptance of new, sometimes controversial, waste management treatment facilities.

Communications covers a multitude of sins— advertising, marketing, media relations (PR)— and some relatively new concepts like social marketing, stakeholder and community engagement. Partnerships is currently a bit of a buzz word in the UK but there is no doubt that it is the way forward in terms of addressing the twin issues of reaching higher levels of recycling and getting residual waste facilities successfully through the planning system. The UK, in case you may not know, is subject to something called the Landfill Directive—a European law that sets tough targets for the reduction of biological/ organic material sent to landfills. For the UK, with an abundance of void capacity (not always in the right places admittedly), landfills are no longer the option of choice and various technological alternatives are being sought to pre-treat waste to render it inert before residues are sent to landfills.

The journey towards this new waste management nirvana is a tortuous and expensive affair and many municipalities in the UK are looking to partner with their neighboring authorities to gain economies of scale and ease the financial load. The new waste partnerships require a commitment to a joint vision of how to deal with residual waste treatment and an inevitable loss of ‘individual authority’ control to the overall group. They can be difficult to establish and maintain and more than one has foundered due to internal rifts when it came to the crunch decisions, such as: “We’re having this particular technology and it’ll be built there!” This has resulted in the public turning on the partnership and rescinding any support they may have offered for the partnership, the technology or the proposed sites in the past. That said, some partnerships are successful and this article looks at the crucial role of PR and stakeholder partnership in the success of these waste management projects.

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