A controversial report which communities secretary Eric Pickles alleged “triggered the move” to alternate weekly waste collections (AWCs) actually warned inspectors that “alternate week collections will not suit all councils or all areas”.
MRW has obtained a copy of the Audit Commission’s Waste Management Quick Guide report, which is understood to be written for internal inspectors only. The Quick Guide was designed to share the experience of different inspectors and what they have seen work in the field. MRW also understands that the report is not – and never has been – external guidance. The report has never been published and its messages are not intended for an external audience.
The guide’s reference to AWC schemes come in a ‘question and answer’ session at the end of the guide, with one local authority asking ‘What is the real position about alternate week collections?’
The report’s response is given verbatim below:
“This is a very complicated situation that has involved government select committees, media campaigns and even campaigning at local elections. The premise is that by collecting waste one week and recyclables the next week, people are encouraged to recycle more and costs do not increase. However, things are rarely that simple.
There are many variations of the AWC. Some simply collect waste one week and recyclables the next – the householder gets one collection a week. Others are more complicated, perhaps collecting recyclables every week, then collecting garden waste and refuse on alternate weeks.
As with most things, if done well, there are very few complaints about alternate week collections, but if done badly then local residents can be affected by the poor service. Particular examples, where AWCs have struggled, include:
- Poor provision for flats and buildings with communal bin stores;
- Poor planning which leads to bins being delivered early, or not at all, and the council being unable to respond to the deluge of calls/complaints
- Lack of flexibility for residents with problems accommodating the new bins
Where it works well, AWCs increase the amounts recycled dramatically; 90 per cent of the top recycling councils operate an alternate week collection scheme.”
A follow-up question asks ‘why do they seem to work?’
The report responded: “In reality, an alternate week collection simply restricts the amount of waste a householder can throw away. It makes it as easy, or even easier, to recycle than not recycle.
It is based on the fact that the average householder has over 50% recyclable waste in their bin. But there are always some householders who fall outside this average – perhaps because they have young children or rely on a lot of heavily packaged ready meals.
AWCs will not suit all councils or all areas. They do not always offer the best solution but where they have been implemented well have been successful in increasing the amounts of waste collected for recycling.”
A final question asked: “What are the health effects of a fortnightly refuse collection?”
The report responded: “It is not for the Audit Commission to comment on the health impacts of a fortnightly refuse collection. The relevant points, however, are waste collection authorities have to collect waste from households. However, they can require that householders separate waste in to different components.
The weekly refuse collection is really historical, and can be tracked by to the 14th century when streets started to be cleaned weekly.
The minimum life cycle of the fly is 14 days in the UK, so a fortnightly collection should be okay providing waste is wrapped before putting in the bin.
Councils can help by sorting out problems that may arise. Some councils have minimised problems by offering to clean our bins that may have got contaminated or suffered for fly infestation (which almost certainly would have started because somebody did not wrap food, or that flies had already laid eggs on the food before it was thrown away); and filters which reduce any smell from the bin.
A fortnightly collection does require a higher level of reliability and planning than a weekly collection. Councils need to consider:
- How they will deal with bank holidays – simply missing a collection is not going to be adequate.
- An approach to missed bins (many councils often asked if the person could hold on to the waste until the next collection – this would be a month gap)
- Informing people of what weeks the different collections will be on
- Seasonal variance between the different waste streams – especially if garden waste is being collected.”