Our relationship with waste is changing. Gone are the days when we simply put everything in the bin and expected it to be hauled away once a week instead homeowners have become savvy about how and what they dispose of. Reinstating weekly, general waste collections now would be a waste of time and money and, according to research we recently carried out, is not what tax payers’ want.
Our research shows that just 9% of people are in favour of a return to weekly waste collections. So it comes as no surprise that we learned recently that only one council in England has applied to the Government for money to reinstate them.
Weekly waste collections, which became law more than 100 years ago, were ended under the previous Government. When the Coalition came to power, it wanted to reinstate them. It launched a £250m bin-fund to which cash-strapped councils could apply for extra funding to make weekly waste collections a reality. The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told us it was a basic human right for people to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in the bin without having to wait two weeks for it to be collected.
However this can be achieved without a return to a traditional overall waste collection. Our research shows there is an overwhelming demand for weekly collections of food waste (with 69% saying they would welcome this). New recycling and waste collections which provide weekly food collections, combined with alternate weekly collections for dry recyclables and residual waste, would meet Eric Pickles’ objectives and also address the reality that waste collection and disposal has changed forever.
The EU landfill directive means that waste cannot be collected and buried in the ground, as it was through previous waste collections. Waste has to be collected and recycled and the most efficient kerb-side sort recycling systems, with weekly food waste collection and fortnightly collections of segregated recyclables, can see up to 70% of the waste stream recycled.
As household budgets have become stretched and people have become more aware of the demands being placed on the environment, we have collectively become smarter about how we deal with waste, throwing away less and recycling more.
Councils are listening to what taxpayers want and are introducing new collection services to meet those changing demands. It is heartening to read, as part of the research from Materials Recycling World that where councils have applied to the Government’s bin-fund it has been for money to expand or introduce weekly food collections. This is not what the Government intended when it launched the fund. But to my mind it is a far better use of the money.
According to Government figures the average amount of household waste produced per person has fallen by eight per cent over the last eight years to 466kg, while the amount of non-recyclable waste they throw out (that goes to landfill) has fallen by 39% and stands at the lowest level since estimates were first made in 1983/4.
These are the results of the efforts of householders and of a range of stakeholders. We need to do more. But we cannot simply turn back the clock to a time when we threw all our waste into one black bag and handed it over to the dustman.
- May Gurney polled 2,038 British adults aged 18+ using an online methodology. The research was conducted by ICM between 16-17 May.
John Wilkinson, managing director, public sector services, May Gurney