Local authorities will be collecting residual waste only monthly by 2017, an industry expert has predicted.
Paul Levett, above, former Veolia deputy chief executive, told the RWM conference that this step would be inevitable as recycling grew.
As recycling rates increased and councils stepped up collections of food waste, nappies and a wider range of plastics, he said the amount of residual waste would become so low as to threaten the economics of fortnightly - let alone weekly - collections.
Levett, who sits on several company boards, told MRW: “Anaerobic digestion capacity will increase quite dramatically because there are plenty of plants with planning permission or under construction, so that will take food waste out of the residual stream.
“I would expect more to collect pots, tubs and trays because the public does not understand different polymers and put these out with plastic bottles, so councils end up with them anyway.”
Relatively few homes used nappies and collection points could be offered to remove these from the residual stream, he suggested.
Levett said it would then be “crazy” on economic grounds to persist with costly weekly or even fortnightly residual collections.
Any such change would bring an adverse public reaction but that would fade as people became used to the new system, he added, citing the ready acceptance of wheeled bins despite initial hostility.
But Levett’s prediction drew a sceptical response from Clyde Loakes, left, vice-chair of the Local Government Association environment and housing board.
“I think it is very optimistic to talk about that happening in five years,” he said. “It is up to councils to work with their residents and see what they will accept.”
Areas such as Waltham Forest, where Loakes is deputy leader, would face too large a challenge in demographics, the type of properties and a large population turnover to consider this step, he added.
Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee chair Joy Blizzard told MRW: “By 2017 we may have achieved near- blanket coverage of food waste collection, and the only challenge in terms of smelly waste that people would not want hanging around would be nappies, incontinence pads and other sorts of medical waste.
“But if we addressed those waste streams, you have to ask what will be left to collect and whether it would be economically justifiable to run alternate weekly collections to pick up such a small quantity of waste.”
Public opinion may be with Levett, despite the efforts of communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles to encourage the restoration of weekly collections. A recent survey for waste firm May Gurney found only 9% support for weekly waste collections.