Bids by councils for cash from a £250m pot to boost weekly waste collections are unlikely to be successful unless there is a commitment to weekly residual waste rounds.
Comments by a senior civil servant in the Department for Communities & Local Government this week appeared to rule out money only to support weekly collections of food waste, which would be largely backed by the waste industry.
Speaking ahead of the publication of a prospectus on the proposals, DCLG director general of localism David Prout told MPs the fund would be reserved for councils which met key criteria, including retained or reinstated weekly residual waste collections.
“It’s about three things: it’s about reinstating or retaining a weekly black bag collection - in other words, so you as a household get your rubbish collected every week - and it’s about improving environmental performance, and it’s about improving value for money,” he told the communities and local government committee.
The department declined to comment on whether or not it would rule out bids for weekly food waste collections but industry figures said such a move would be “disappointing [and] go against the government’s own waste review” (see box).
Further details on the proposals could be released before Christmas with ministers expected to publish a full prospectus outlining the criteria for bids early in the New Year, MRW understands.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles unveiled the £250m weekly collections support scheme, which he said would “support councils to deliver a weekly collection of household waste and improve the environment”, in September.
But senior waste industry figures, environmental campaigners and council leaders have all raised concerns about the direction of the policy.
PDM commercial director, Philip Simpson, said the money could be “put to much better use tackling household apathy towards food waste”.
Writing for MRW last month, he said: “It is widely believed that food is now our biggest challenge in the road to zero waste to landfill. So, if we are really committed to making a significant difference in recycling rates, then surely putting money towards educating and providing infrastructure to support householders with food waste is the way forward.”
As previously reported by MRW, May Gurney Environmental Services managing director Nicola Peake said “populist measures” like calling for a return to weekly waste collections ran contrary to the government’s localism agenda.
She said: “We would urge the government to redirect the £250m fund to schemes that boost recycling and build on the excellent progress already made by UK local authorities to introduce a new generation of recycling and waste collection services.”
Friends of the Earth (FoE) said restricting the funding to residual waste could damage council recycling rates. FoE assistant campaigner Becky Slater said: “The government’s own adviser WRAP, has said it is not unhygienic to have a fortnightly residual collection as long as they are coupled with a weekly food collection.
“We would be concerned that if councils revert back to weekly waste collections that their recycling rates will suffer. Independent experts estimate recycling rates could fall by 5% if councils [revert back to weekly residual waste collections].”
The Local Government Association has also focused its lobbying efforts on opening the fund to support weekly food waste collections.
One senior local government source said they were still optimistic ministers would allow bids for funding food waste collection. “I don’t think they have ruled anything in or out yet. Any sensible local authority will be keeping their counsel will be waiting to see what the prospectus says before making up their minds,” the source added.
Local government minister Bob Neill said: “Our initiative will help councils deliver better weekly collections, and in the process make it easier for families to go green and improve amenity and the local environment. We will shortly be announcing more detail and inviting councils to submit innovative bids for funding in the New Year.”
The government’s own waste review appeared to support weekly food waste collections. What is disappointing about this latest statement is that it appears to contradict the earlier positive review, and, indeed, two government departments appear to have differing views. Also, we can’t see how a weekly refuse service can help meet the key objectives highlighted by David Prout – improving environmental performance and improving value for money. Our view, in fact, is that weekly refuse collections have the opposite effect. We would urge the department to reconsider allowing the funding to be available to introduce weekly food waste collections.
Pete Dickson, development director of Biffa’s municipal division
Follow the development of the issue online on at:
Extra cash to councils (30 September) – MRW.co.uk/8620570.article
Industry responses (30 September) - MRW.co.uk/8620587.article
Warning of recycling dip (4 October) - MRW.co.uk/8620727.article
Councils cool on offer (24 November) - MRW.co.uk/8622823.article
Poll on waste collections (1 December) - MRW.co.uk/8623214.article