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Tory councils defend AWC as bidders target food waste

Last September, a Daily Mail headline triumphantly announced ‘Weekly bins are on the way back! Minister pledges £250m fund to PAY councils to dump fortnightly rounds’.

Research MRW strap

Communities secretary Pickles launched his renewed campaign against alternate weekly collections (AWC) by telling the paper that Conservative council leaders had told him the public like fortnightly bin collections - but that he was determined to sweep away financial incentives for not providing a weekly round. 

Indeed, the minister has been trying to get rid of AWCs, currently run by 57% of English councils, since 2008.  

But MRW’s analysis of applications to the £250m Weekly Collection Support Scheme suggests that, despite Pickles’ best efforts, the lid will be put on very few alternatee weekly residual collections.

MRW’s exclusive research revealed:

  • Of the 251 councils which responded to our survey, 141 said they had not bid 
  • Just 30% of the 110 bids submitted were from councils attempting to retain a weekly residual collection
  • Labour-controlled Stoke on Trent Council was the sole respondent bidding to ditch an AWCs and return to a weekly collection
  • Conservative-controlled councils led the staunch defence of councils’ right to retain an alternate weekly rubbish collection, with 61% of Tory respondents stating they had not bid 
  • Some 38% of the applicants were from councils looking to fund food waste collections - the largest single group of bid types.

See here for more on the results

England will instead end up with a hotchpotch of bolt-on weekly recycling services including food waste, mattress, nappy and electronic waste collections.

If some bids are successful, there will be new waste infrastructure such as an MRF or an anaerobic digestion plant (see box below).

A snapshot of the wider range of bids

Stoke on Trent City Council

Stoke-on-Trent’s bid proposes “increasing” its collection from fortnightly to weekly for both its residual and recycling rounds for 88,231 households.

Plymouth City Council

Has bid for £4m of capital funding to finance the construction of a MRF.

Northamptonshire Waste Partnership

Led by Kettering Borough Council, the partnership has bid for funding to support a weekly collection for food waste.

Coventry City Council

Coventry’s bid proposes the provision of a RecycleBank-style incentive scheme which would see residents who sign up to the scheme rewarded points for every extra tonne of waste that the city recycles.

Surrey Waste Partnership

Surrey’s district councils want to finance a free weekly collection of “smelly nappies and other absorbent hygiene products”.

Sandwell Council

Sandwell’s bid covered a raft of areas but notable ideas included a borough-wide battery collection, a similar collection for waste electronic and electrical waste and a disposable nappy collection for an estimated 2,750 families.

Eastleigh Borough Council

Bidding for cash to fund an anaerobic digestion plant which will generate heat and energy from residential and commercial food waste.

Blaby District Council

Blaby has bid for £2.3m capital funding to change its waste collection fleet from single material to split bodies to enable it to carry out both residual and recycling collections.

London Borough of Redbridge

Has bid for funding for a mattress collection service and weekly garden waste collection.

Indeed, the results suggest that the Weekly Collection Support Scheme will not mean the return of the weekly black bag bin collection across England.   

The results were welcomed by senior professionals in the waste and recycling sector, who called on Pickles to support those projects relating to weekly food waste collections.

Joy Blizzard, chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, told MRW: “A wide range of projects have been put forward but there seems to be a clear emphasis on food waste collection, which I don’t think will surprise many.”


Gavin Shuker MP, shadow minister for waste, left, said: “Local authorities have voted with their feet. They realise we must cut down on waste, not encourage it. We need a proper plan to become a zero-waste economy, not policy-making on the hoof.”

Pickles has seen his ambition to banish AWCs fade in recent months.

In December, officials told MPs that councils would not get money from the fund unless they “reinstated or retained a weekly black bag collection”. But when the prospectus arrived in February, it revealed bids for food waste collection would be viable (see box below).

The prospectus said the scheme aims to “reverse the shift towards fortnightly rubbish collections” and that bids would be assessed on a three-pronged criteria.

It said: “The aim of this scheme is to support local authorities to introduce, retain or reinstate a weekly collection of residual household waste; propose improvements to an existing service which is centred around a weekly residual collection; or add a weekly food waste collection.”

It added the council must demonstrate that this “represents the preference of local people”. 

Many councils exploited this apparent change of heart and put in bids for food waste collections, with the intention of maintaining their AWC for residual waste. Indeed, 43% of the bids involved a food waste collection compared with just 30% wanting to fund a weekly residual collection.

But why did so many councils opt not to bid for a slice of cash when they are facing unprecedented budget cuts and some have warned they may have to slash all but their statutory services?

A notable trio to ignore the fund was Tory-controlled Westminster City Council, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham councils. All were recently praised by Pickles for their innovative joint working ‘tri-borough’ project.  

They told MRW that because they all ran at least weekly collections, they were not eligible for funding. The prospectus terms shows this is incorrect, but perhaps understandable.

However, another reason commonly cited was that the money would run out in five years’ time and leave the council facing a financial cliff edge at a later date.

Cotswold District Council told MRW: “Councils which take up this funding are bound for five years and cannot revert back to fortnightly collections - which represents a large risk of being stuck with higher amounts of landfill waste for that time period.”

This argument has some credence, but many of the bids circumvented this potential pitfall by applying for capital funding - for example Eastleigh’s bid to build an AD plant - rather than revenue funding. But many did opt to bid for revenue funding to fill a potential gap.

Sunderland City Council said: “Our bid is to seek grant support to allow the council to continue to provide its weekly refuse collection service for residual waste for the next five years.”

The council’s bid also outlined efficiencies in collection rounds and a communications campaign. 

The Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) dismissed the research as “an incomplete and inaccurate picture”, despite it having analysed responses from more than 70% of English councils. Its response was telling.

A DCLG statement said: “Last month marked the end of the outline bidding stage and, as the Department has already set out, we have received 166 bids for £430m of funding, for a £250m scheme.

“This enthusiasm shows there is significant scope for councils to increase recycling rates and improve front-line services without cutting the frequency of rubbish collections.

“The Government believes every household in England has a basic right to have their rubbish collected every week.”

This is all true - and that is not why the fund was set up in the first place. But there is certainly little evidence of Pickles’ stated aim to “reverse the shift towards fortnightly rubbish collections”.

The alternate weekly black bag collection appears to be here to stay across England, despite Pickles and the quarter of a billion pound bribe offered to consign them to the dustbin of history.

Political breakdown of respondents

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