The waste industry has largely welcomed the announcement of £250m to encourage weekly household collections but some are wondering whether the money is being well spent.
Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles has set aside £250m to encourage weekly household waste collections. The Conservatives also want to encourage incentive schemes, such as Recyclebank, develop innovative technologies, such as mechanical biological treatment, improve procurement and extend jointworking.
Waste management firm Biffa believes local authorities have a right to choose what collection system works best.
Chief executive Ian Wakelin said: “It is right to give local authorities the option to choose between weekly or fortnightly bin collections because different systems work in different areas.
“What is vital is that we make it as easy as possible for people to recycle. We know that often means putting all ‘dry’ recyclables, like cans, paper, plastics and glass, into one ’commingled’ bin, which is what Biffa uses for many of its household collections.
“It is then our job to make sure we have the infrastructure and technology in place to recycle it efficiently and effectively.”
It will be down to local authorities to decide which system best fits their local circumstances
A spokesperson for the Environmental Services Association said: “We welcome the support shown by the Department for Communities and Local Government for recycling and waste collection services. We must acknowledge that local authorities deal with a wide range of different pressures, needing to deliver both a great service for residents and maximum recycling of their wastes in a cost-effective manner.
“There will be no ‘one size fits all’ solution and it will be down to local authorities to decide which system best fits their local circumstances.”
Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association chairman Lord Redesdale asserted that this could lead the charge for source segregated organic waste collections.
People want reliable, efficient bin collection which makes it easy to recycle
Local Government Association (LGA) chairman Cllr Merrick Cockell said: “Local authorities will find the new money useful if financial considerations were holding them back from operating a weekly collection.
“As the Government has recognised by giving councils an option, the decision ultimately comes down to local choice. People want reliable, efficient bin collection which makes it easy to recycle. That can be achieved in different ways and councils have to find a system that works well for residents in their area.”
This policy initiative must not lock local councils into significantly higher waste collection costs
However, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management questioned whether the money could be more suitably targeted towards supporting more recycling, developing an increase in food waste collections and encouraging waste prevention schemes.
A statement from the organisation said: “In economic terms, with so many constraints on council budgets, it is important to ensure that this policy initiative does not lock local councils into significantly higher waste collection costs, for which we will all have to foot the bill long after the Weekly Collections Support Scheme funding has run dry.
“It is also essential that local decision-making is not compromised. Despite many assertions to the contrary, waste collection has been and should continue to be a local decision, with councils able to design services to suit the particular needs of their area and their residents.
“ It would be wholly inappropriate and contrary to the spirit of ‘localism’ for central government to use this funding as a mechanism to push councils to make changes where they are not appropriate to the local needs.”
Pickles is like a dog with a bone and he refuses to let go of his obsession
Friends of the Earth waste campaigner Julian Kirby described the announcement ahead of the Conservative Party Conference as a political manoeuvre.
He told MRW: “We think it’s appalling. He’s like a dog with a bone and he refuses to let go of his obsession [with weekly household collections].
“He’s found £250m from somewhere and he was rather flippant on the Today programme about how he found this money – despite services being cut all around the country. That money could be better spent.
“If half of the local authorities reverted to weekly black bin bag collections it would cost half a billion over four years based on figures from Wrap and the ENDS report.
“Eric Pickles is claiming that the money will be there for authorities to increase recycling but the experience we have is that fortnightly black bag collections boost recycling so it’s very difficult to see how it can be the case.
We would urge the Government to redirect the £250 million fund to schemes that boost recycling
May Gurney Environmental Services managing director Nicola Peake believes the money would be better spent on food waste collections:
She said: “Populist measures such as calling for a return to weekly waste collections seem to run contrary to the Government’s stated desire to delegate power to local authorities and give them the ability to select the most appropriate services for their area.
“The reality is that weekly collections for food and recyclable waste coupled with alternate weekly collections for residual waste are helping UK councils achieve recycling rates of up to 70 per cent of the domestic waste stream - a fantastic achievement.
“We would urge the Government to redirect the £250 million fund to schemes that boost recycling and build on the excellent progress already made by UK local authorities to introduce a new generation of recycling and waste collection services.”
Welsh Environment Minister John Griffiths said it was up to councils - not central government - to decide what frequency of waste collections works best for their community.
“It is clear, however, that the pattern adopted by most Welsh councils, that is weekly separate food waste and recycling collections and fortnightly collections of residual (or black bag) waste, is the most sustainable, successful and cost-effective solution.”
Comment: AEA Global Practice Director for Waste Management & Resource Efficiency Dr Adam Read
I am disappointed that we have had to open this can of worms once again, and I believe that local authorities, industry and many people understand that the real issue is not the frequency of collection but the quality and suitability of the service and support on offer. Perhaps the only inkling of sense associated with this new Community Fund is that an authority must make a firm commitment to return / extend weekly collections and will need to provide evidence to support the benefits of doing so in terms of recycling rate and litter etc. So it might be quite hard for many authorities that might to access this money to do so!
Mr Pickles continues to claim that weekly collections are what the people would prefer and not what he would prefer, but in my experiences well-designed and supported alternate weekly collection (AWC) schemes can achieve high levels of customer / consumer satisfaction and will deliver better recycling and food waste diversion rates. I’m afraid that this is another flawed policy which identifies the gap that continues to exist between different Government departments when considering the design and delivery of sustainable waste management. I am an advocate of AWC and have lived with a successful scheme for the last decade. Given Caroline Spelman’s comments regarding choice of service for local authorities, I fully support this, and hope that local authorities engage in sensible community engagement activities to test new service ideas and help them to make an informed decision about weekly or not. But don’t ask residents would you prefer weekly or fortnightly, this is a loaded question and will only get one answer. We need to be smart about engaging with our residents and accept that they are capable of having informed discussions about local priorities, budgets and improvements, but we need time and effort to make this work, and how much of the available fund will be set aside for consultation activities?
Given the current economic climate would it not be more prudent to utilise the £250M to support the role out of food waste schemes, which are vital in addressing climate change, and the continuing development of third sector programmes to capture bulky wastes and to deliver enhanced reuse programmes? £250M might achieve far more if it was used to drive waste prevention campaigns and top fund a culture change around re-use – both of which are fundamental pillars of the current Government’s thinking on waste management.
To be honest this is a little disappointing and a retrograde step.