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Pickles' first 'myth' explored

Examining the evidence around the first myth described in Pickles’ ‘Bin Bible’: “There is no alternative. A move to a fortnightly collection is the only way to improve recycling rates.”

It is widely accepted that a range of factors affect recycling rates and it is not down to one single factor. But the point really being made by the Bin Bible is that it is possible to achieve high recycling rates without implementing fortnightly collections.

As justification for this argument, the Bin Bible cites household recycling rates of 50% or more being achieved by five councils that provide weekly refuse collections. These examples are drawn from Defra’s Local Authority Collection and Household Waste Statistics for England 2012/13. We are talking here about recycling rates, including composting and reuse.

This naturally invites a closer look at all the authorities in England that achieved a household recycling rate of 50% or more in 2012/13. (See above, fortnightly council are blue, weekly red). Using information on collection schemes published by WRAP, we grouped them according to the predominant refuse collection policy they provide. What we find is that the councils achieving a recycling rate of 50% or more are split as follows:

  • Weekly: seven authorities with recycling rates of 50-54%.
  • Fortnightly: 55 authorities with recycling rates of 50-67%.

The Defra data shows that the average recycling rate for all English authorities providing weekly collections (130 authorities) was 36%, in comparison with an average recycling rate of 45% for those providing fortnightly collections (190 authorities).

There is further evidence to show that fortnightly refuse collections are associated with higher recycling rates. WRAP’s analysis of kerbside dry recycling performance for 2008/09 includes a regression analysis which shows that fortnightly collections are associated with higher dry recycling performance.

We have recently carried out an updated analysis on 2011/12 data which produced a similar finding. And our evaluation of the WRAP food waste collection trials found that fortnightly refuse collections are associated with higher yields of food waste. There is no shortage of evidence showing that fortnightly collections are a powerful way to drive more recycling.

Eric Bridgwater, principal consultant, Resource Futures

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