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Refuse report says Government proposals are 'timid'

Complex, timid and in parts unlikely to prompt mass recycling is how a critical report described Government proposals to reduce household waste and increase recycling rates. Authors of the Refuse Collection report, the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, aimed to identify how collection methods could reduce waste overall and in particular the amount sent to landfill. It acknowledged the problem of disparity between public perception of rubbish collection funding and funding reality and also recognised the pressure created by European Union landfill diversion targets. The report endorsed local authority autonomy and said that local authorities are best placed to implement schemes to suit their area. However, it called on central Government to provide clear national guidance. It referred to the controversial nature of alternate weekly collections (AWC) and said that while it works in some areas, it was not welcomed in all: Notably where councils have blundered into introducing it without adequately informing local householders and council tax payers. Commenting on public concern about health issues surrounding AWC of food waste the report said: Research has found no public health risk from AWC, but wider research is required to persuade the public. To remedy negative public perceptions surrounding AWC generally the report recommended moving away from confusing definitions, such as AWC, toward an understandable definition, so the public knows what to expect. Other policies discussed that are likely to cause adverse public reaction were financial incentive schemes according to the Comittee. The report dismissed rewards of £20 a year for positive recycling behaviour as too low to encourage mass recycling. Putting financial charges in a wider context the report said: UK citizens are unusual in the EU in paying no direct charges for refuse collections from their homes. It added that the Government had rowed back substantially from implementing direct charges as the Government has chosen to use financial incentives schemes in its Waste Strategy for England 2007. The Government had also insisted that any such scheme should be revenue neutral. The report said this could be problematic as revenue neutral prevents local authorities raising additional cash if necessary. It added: Since revenue neutral does not mean cost-neutral and any scheme introduced will require administration and enforcement costs, they may in practice add further cost to the local authority burden. The report said that the Governments consultation model proposed a flat rate charge for households of for example £50. Any households throwing out less waste than this, say £20 worth, would get a rebate of £30. Homes producing more waste, for example £80 would be charged £30 for the extra. The report added that as individual residents would lose or gain, it is hard to see how residents forced to pay a financial incentive scheme bill seeing it as anything other than a charge or tax. It also suggested that such schemes could lead to public protests and increases in fly tipping as people dump domestic rubbish to avoid paying for extra. This had been the experience of other countries, including Denmark and Ireland, when they had introduced such schemes. The idea of joint authorities was welcomed by the report but it mentioned the Waste & Resources Action Programmes (WRAP) comments that local authorities will need to give up some autonomy if they wanted the expected costs savings. Shifting the, so called media driven, focus away from domestic waste the report said: It is easy to forget that far more can be achieved by reducing, recycling and reusing commercial, industrial and construction waste products. It recommended that the Government give increasing emphasis to the commercial waste sector. In response to the committees finding Defra said: "We are pleased that the majority of the Committee's report welcomes the Government's approach to waste management. "We are currently consulting on our financial incentives proposal and will not finalise our policy until this is completed. There are clear financial and environmental imperatives for action. "Some of the Committee's conclusions on financial incentives are based on a misunderstanding of our proposals. We have not fixed a level for the incentive - this would be up to authorities to decide. The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and WRAP both welcomed the findings. CIWM chief executive Steve Lee said: The reports findings need to be considered carefully. Knee jerk reactions and decisions will not give us the solutions. The CIWM also highlighted the risk of letting debate take the place of hard data: Financial incentives have a potentially valuable contribution to make towards changing behaviour but real evidence is needed to base this decision on. Echoing the reports recognition of public concern about food waste and AWC, WRAP added that its new guidance on AWC proposes weekly food collections for anaerobic digestion or composting. It said its own research showed that the separate collection of food waste is likely to be the most successful way of diverting that waste from landfill and anaerobic digestion is a good environmental option for dealing with it. However, Environmental Services Association chief executive Dirk Hazell said: As the Committee noted, Britain still invests less in recycling than our European neighbours in building the recycling society we want to see. While we share the Committees reservation that the Government might have gone further in giving councils the power both to incentivise good recyclers and to raise more money, when it comes to planning policy the Committee is as cautious as it accuses the Government of being on incentives. Planning policy is a fundamental obstacle to building the recycling society: the Committee lost a chance to recommend specific action to ensure that sufficient infrastructure is delivered on time to meet our European obligations to divert waste from landfill.

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