Recycling officers might want to take a deep breath before breaking the news to residents that their local authority is considering implementing an alternate week collection (AWC), but around 100 local authorities are now operating an AWC is some form.
In fact, 11 of the top 20 performers in 2003-04 operated an AWC scheme, and last month the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) produced an extensive report on how to evaluate whether such an approach is right for an authority.
WRAP is at pains to emphasise that the guide is not a mandate for switching to AWC; rather it is a helping hand in deciding whether it is right for an authority.
That said, the case studies present a pretty rosy picture of AWC; and although WRAP adds plenty of caveats, none of the case studies cover authorities for whom an AWC scheme has not worked well.
AWCs, says WRAP, improve recycling levels while limiting increases in collection costs.
The guidance was commissioned by WRAP's Recycling and Organics Technical Advisory Team (Rotate).
"This guide is not a rulebook or instruction manual and does not recommend or stipulate any single approach to an AWC scheme," says Rotate manager Linda Crichton.
"What it does is to take the local authority through a structured thought process, progressing from the initial concept through to scheme optimisation.
"The first and most fundamental stage in the AWC process is deciding whether it is right for your authority. Many authorities have rolled out successful schemes, but there are a number of reasons why an AWC may not be the answer in some cases. The guide enables users to make an informed decision based on an understanding of what is involved and the benefits to be gained, while avoiding any hidden surprises."
The guide draws heavily from the experience of many of the 100 or so local authorities that have already implemented schemes.
Their feedback suggests that recycling and participation levels increase and that kerbside waste arisings decrease as a direct result of the introduction of an AWC.
According to the report, local authorities have reported average increases in participation levels of 15% to 20% through the move to AWC, with some seeing dramatic increases where recycling service provision has been expanded.
Scheme participation levels as high as 95% are reported by some local authorities, while others have reported a reduction in total waste collected at the kerbside of between 4.5 and 13%.
In its report, WRAP identifies three key reasons for considering an AWC: meeting targets, improved cost effectiveness and best value.
But be warned - this is not a quick fix.
Feedback from authorities suggests that the entire process can take nearly three years.
By restricting both the frequency and capacity of residual waste collections, recycling can be promoted as the core function of the kerbside collection service, says WRAP, and this is a useful way to achieve higher recycling levels to meet statutory targets.
However, high levels can only be achieved if there is a comprehensive service in place and sufficient capacity available.
WRAP also warns that an AWC scheme will not necessarily save money.
Instead, it says that this is highly dependent on the level of service currently offered.
AWC usually involves a reduction in refuse collection to a fortnightl