How many times have you been stuck behind a bin lorry when you’re rushing to get to work?

Could your organisation benefit from route optimisation? Andy Phillips, Performance Auditor at the Wales Audit Office looks at the potential benefits.

Rubbish / SbwrielPicking up our rubbish is an essential council activity and visible evidence to all about the efficiency with which your council operates this unglamorous service. What appears at first glance to be a straightforward job actually needs very complex planning given the need to shave costs to a minimum and to put in place collection rounds that cover the whole county, that run efficiently and to the satisfaction of residents and traders. And with as little disruption as is practicable.

It’s not just refuse that is collected. Recycling is increasing in both in the quantity and types of materials collected such as food, dry recyclables and garden wastes. The amounts of these that councils need to collect constantly change with economic activity, seasons, and the introduction of waste strategies. In practice, this can mean the councils need several different types of collection vehicle and operatives may have to sort recyclables at the kerbside. The crews on collection rounds face a considerable physical challenge to load refuse and recyclables all day and in all weathers, so they need collection rounds that protect their safety and wellbeing and fairly balance workloads between each crew.

Optimising the design of waste collection routes is a good way to make collection routes more efficient. Careful design of routes can minimises the number of vehicles or other assets in use, the mileage and the cost leading to less miles, less fuel and less carbon footprint. But nobody knows the rounds better than the crews themselves. This is why they need to be a part of any review of their rounds because what looks like a great route on a map in practice may have many practical problems such as with access through narrow streets or with congestion, such as seen when collecting waste during the school run.

Waste managers from across Wales are gathering at the MRC in Llandrindod Wells on Wednesday 25th March at the Welsh Local Government Association’s route optimisation workshop. The Wales Audit Office has great experience of running seminars for other service areas through its Good Practice Exchange, and will be helping out with the workshop. Speakers from the waste industry will demonstrate their route optimisation techniques and software, and representatives from councils that have already rationalised their waste collection rounds will share their experiences and offer some good practice. The sessions will be interactive and should be a lively debate leading to great benefit in terms of sharing quick access to knowledge and experience, and create discussions and collaborations that can continue after the meeting closes. The focus will be on savings made, challenges faced and lessons learned.

Although the workshop is for waste managers the same route optimisation process can be applied to other service areas, such as: winter maintenance, street cleansing, mobile services like libraries, highways inspections, grass and hedge cutting, social care applications like routine home visits or school and day centre pick-ups or meals on wheels deliveries. Taking the knowledge gained from this shared learning workshop and sharing within your own organisation could greatly increase the benefits of attending the workshop in Llandrindod Wells. We look forward to seeing you there at 10am, if you don’t get stuck behind a bin lorry that is…

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