A document promoting weekly waste collections published by mistake on the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) website has met with harsh criticisms from waste professionals.
The ‘Guidance on weekly rubbish collections’ document was published and quickly withdrawn on 26 December 2013.
A DCLG spokeswoman was unable to say why the document was withdrawn, but the DCLG website page that hosted the file now reads: “The information on this page has been removed because it was published in error.”
A new document will be published soon, she added.
The guidance set out to dispell “common misconceptions” on waste collection, referred to as “myths” (see box below).
Some industry members that obtained a copy said there were flaws in the guidance.
Steve Lee, chief executive at the Chartered Institution for Wastes Management (CIWM), told MRW the document looked like “an incomplete draft”.
“It is not the quality document I would have anticipated the department would be prepared to put on its website. It has got clear mistakes and proofreading issues,” he said.
For examples he quoted a paragraph form page 4 (see document right), which read:
“We all recognise that we have got to cut down the amount that gets dumped in landfill. But this should be done in most heavy-handed way possible [sic] – such as cutting back the service, imposing new bin taxes, using unfair bin fines or snooping through people’s dustbins. In all likelihood, this would have just fuelled fly-tipping, backyard burning and more trips to the dump as people tried to avoid paying the tax.”
Lee also noted that the language used in the document was unusual and could have been received as “insulting” by some council members. He said the document cited what it termed as “lazy” decision making by local authorities.
One page read: “Local authorities looking to save some money on their waste management often seem to look no further than moving to a fortnightly collection,” and: “It is clear there are plenty of opportunities for councils to make significant waste-related savings aside from the lazy option of moving to a fortnightly collection.”
Lee said this was “rather insulting and dismissing” of the difficult decisions councils had to take. “The CIWM knows that these decisions are not taken lightly, they are taken in the faces of all pressures, all funding cuts,” he said.
Lee also questioned whether the document had been shared with Defra officials before publication. A spokesperson for Defra told MRW that inquiries on the guidance should have been addressed to the DCLG as it was “their initiative”.
Lee stressed that he believed that the document was still in the draft stage and could not explain why it had been published.
Aside from the guidance, the document presented the case studies of 11 local authorities that had received funding from the Weekly Collection Support Scheme (WCSS), a fund set up by community secretary Eric Pickles to support councils to retain weekly residual waste collection.
Phil Conran, director at consultancy 360 environmental, told MRW that the case studies appeared “somewhat disingenuous”.
He said in most of the cases presented the funding received by councils had been used for short-term capital spending on improved recycling services and not particularly relevant to whether councils operated weekly residual waste collections.
Conran said: “Often it is by improving the efficiency of the service – for example moving from back door to curtilage – that some councils were able to operate weekly instead of fortnightly at the same cost. But of course, if they went fortnightly, it would be even cheaper.”
The only cases where a direct link between the funding received and a move to weekly collection was mentioned were Birmingham Council, where the money was used to revert collection from fortnightly to weekly, Lewes District Council, which introduced a weekly collection of food waste, and Ribble Valley, which used the funding to introduce an alternate weekly collection of commingled food and garden waste.
“It seems bizarre that the secretary of state seems happy that Ribble Valley collects food waste fortnightly whilst casting alternate weekly collection of residual waste as the likely source of the next bubonic plague,” said Conran.
In the other cases, the funding was used for other initiatives, with the suggestion that the money saved from them was used to maintain weekly collection.
The 10 myths:
Myth 1. “There is no alternative. A move to a fortnightly collection is the only way to improve recycling rates.”
Myth 2. “Fortnightly collection schemes reduce the overall amount of waste produced.”
Myth 3. “In areas with low recycling rates, introducing a fortnightly collection is the only way to change residents’ attitudes to recycling.”
Myth 4. “The £250 million Weekly Collection Support Scheme would have disastrous impact on recycling.”
Myth 5. “People don’t want their bins emptied every week.”
Myth 6. “Other than inconveniencing residents, there are no other problems caused by a move to fortnightly collections of residual waste.”
Myth 7. “Local authorities can’t commit to weekly collections of residual waste in uncertain times.”
Myth 8. “Central government is urging all parts of the public sector to cut costs. Where waste management is concerned, the only option for a local authority is to move to a fortnightly collection of residual waste.”
Myth 9. “The introduction of a fortnightly collection will bring significant savings to the council and in turn therefore to the council taxpayer”.
Myth 10. “Traditional weekly rubbish collections must be scrapped to meet European recycling regulations.”