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Alternate weekly collections are a step forward

Nicola Peake

…on support for alternate weekly collections of household waste

Waste collection services have arguably never been more politically charged than they are today. Communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles famously called weekly bin collections “a basic right for every English man and woman” and, last year, stated that: “Fortnightly collections are unpopular and unhygienic. It’s the traditional weekly bin round that people want.”

However, the waste review last week confirmed that the Government was not going to bring back weekly waste collections, as had been rumoured in the weeks leading up to its publication.

While the Government is right (even in an era of localism) to champion better quality local authority services and to challenge councils and their partners to deliver more, I strongly believe that the language of waste collection needs to change to prevent this polarising and obscuring the debate between weekly and alternate weekly collections (AWC).

The reality is that many local authorities are implementing AWC for residual waste in combination with the weekly collection of recyclables and food, meaning that many residents now receive a more complete service than a traditional ‘single bin’ collection once a week. This is not a cut-price, poor alternative to the traditional weekly bin collection but a completely new way of collecting and processing waste.

May Gurney commissioned a consumer research survey in February to discover which local authority services people most value, and which they want to see changed.

“This is not a poor alternative but a completely new way of waste collecting”

The findings are striking. Refuse and recycling services were named as the most important council service by 44% of respondents, more than for any other service. In addition, 63% of people said they regularly used local authority recycling services (more than any other service) and just 13% of people thought recycling and refuse services were the area their council most needed to improve.

So when the Government states that people want traditional weekly collections, you could be forgiven for questioning who they have spoken to. Our study, conducted by poll specialist ICM Research, suggests that support for recycling is in fact high.

I am not trying to claim that introducing new recycling services and AWC for residual waste is not contentious. Some people will resist change and it is therefore critical that any changes are clearly communicated to residents to ensure they understand how to get the most from the recycling services and that the transition is as painless as possible.

However, the overwhelming evidence is that alternate weekly collections, especially when coupled with weekly food waste and recycling collections, boost recycling rates, cut the carbon footprint of waste collection services and produce a significant revenue stream for local authorities, through recycling household waste streams.

Polarising the argument between weekly and AWC distracts from the real issue. Requiring local authorities to change back to a weekly model for waste and recycling collections would have been a retrograde step.

Nicola Peake is managing director of May Gurney Environmental Services

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