Authoritative new guidance on best practice in sustainable procurement, launched last week by WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme), could help councils to significantly boost their performance when it comes to efficient use of resources.

Developed in conjunction with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS), the guidance is targeted at councillors in England with a particular interest in scrutiny, sustainability or procurement.

Providing advice on how councillors can shape procurement strategy to deliver on sustainability at no extra cost, it offers practical examples of how to improve resource efficiency by specifying higher recycled content in goods, works and services.

The guidance focuses particularly on construction, highways maintenance, estates management and printed materials and provides real-life examples of the benefits of specifying recycled, for example:

* 16-17% of the value of materials used in exemplar designs for secondary schools is derived from recycled content at standard practice - using 400-500 tonnes of material that might otherwise have gone to landfill. However, using alternative products and specifications currently available at no extra cost could increase this figure to 18-22% and divert a further 3,000-4,000 tonnes from landfill.

* Essex County Council has agreed targets for the use of recycled content with its highways contractor. In financial year 2002/03, 59% of material was recycled against a target of 20%, which enabled savings of £150,000. This money was used to deliver extra maintenance projects.

* 1,500 plastic bottles are used to make every 1.5m of recycled plastic walkway. This product has proven highly durable and slip-resistant in wet areas, such as nature reserves. High-performing kerbside collection schemes typically generate 100-200 plastic bottles per household per year.

* At least two local authority buying consortia in the UK have been able to provide recycled copying papers at the same price as equivalent virgin papers. Good Practice Guide: Procurement and the efficient use of material resources (0.3MB) is available on the WRAP website at: