Manchester councils looking to three-weekly to avoid rocketing disposal costs

Oldham Council is likely to follow several of its neighbouring authorities in implementing three-weekly residual waste collections to reduce the impacts of rapidly rising waste disposal costs in Greater Manchester.

The council’s cabinet will decide on Monday (27 June) whether to approve a move to the reduced frequency system as it seeks to avoid costs of £350.58 per tonne to dispose of residual waste.

This fee is set to rise even higher to £366.52 per tonne in 2016/17, while in contrast recyclable waste that is collected through Oldham’s kerbside service earns the council £25 a tonne, saving over £375 for every tonne of material treated. The council says that a ‘significant’ amount of rubbish that could be recycled is currently being thrown away in its grey residual waste bins.

Waste disposal for the local authorities in Greater Manchester is managed through the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority’s (GMWDA) PFI contract with Viridor Laing, and three neighbouring councils within the group – Salford, Rochdale and Bury – have already made the decision to reduce their collection frequency to force material into the recycling stream and lower the costs of residual treatment.

Oldham currently has a recycling rate of around 39 per cent, but as part of the PFI contract is obligated to meet a 50 per cent recycling rate by 2020.

Manchester councils looking to three-weekly to avoid rocketing disposal costsAs part of the partnership with the GMWDA, local authorities in Greater Manchester have to pay a levy to the authority, which manages around 1.1 million tonnes of recycling and waste produced by over one million households across the nine district councils. Oldham has been set a levy of £15.897 million in 2016/17, calculated to reflect ‘the most up to date waste projections that the Council and other Greater Manchester councils have provided’. This figure is set to rise to £17.887 million in 2017/18.

If the cabinet votes to approve the changes, the new three-weekly service will be rolled out from October 2016.

System could see recycling also moved to three-weekly timetable

A report recommending the switch to the cabinet, written by Oldham Council’s Director of Environmental Services Carol Brown, sets out the possible solutions to the rising cost of residual waste treatment, noting that reducing the capacity for residual waste has been proven to reduce the amount collected.

Unlike the other Manchester councils, the system recommended in the report features recycling also being collected every three weeks, with collections of the current system’s three bins (residual waste; cans, glass and plastic bottles; and paper) taking place on alternate weeks. Food waste would continue to be collected weekly.

Brown writes that the change would see collections ‘simplified over the current system in that a different coloured bin is collected each week with a weekly collection for the green (food and garden waste) bin. The council has carried out 'high-level consultation' with a 'small group' of Oldham residents, which indicated a strong preference (around 80 per cent) for the 3-weekly option.

According to research carried out by the council, there has been much less resistance than anticipated to three-weekly collections in other local authorities, and Brown estimates that the change in service would provide a 12-15 per cent boost to Oldham’s recycling rate, putting it over the 50 per cent target.

Ahead of the cabinet meeting, the option of replacing the current 240-litre residual waste bins with ‘slim-lined’ 140-litre units has also been investigated. This method of restricting residual waste capacity has been implemented in Stockport, Trafford, Tameside and Bolton.

While Brown estimates a similar increase in Oldham’s recycling rate through this method, she notes that the capital investment required would push back implementation until mid-2017, by which time the cost of waste disposal will have risen and cost efficiencies would be reduced.

Along with the levy costs to the GMWDA, a three-weekly collection is estimated to cost a total of £35.114 million to the council over the next two years, compared with £41.425 million for the slim bins and £38.308 for doing nothing, though this would increase significantly as tonnage costs rise over the next five years.

'Doing nothing is not an option'

Commenting on the possible changes, Councillor Barbara Brownridge, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Co-operatives, said: “Over the next two years the council needs to make £37 million worth of more savings, which means we need to do things differently. Doing nothing is not an option.

"The changes would see recycling rates increase and reduce the cost of disposal – helping to save Council Tax payers’ money so it can be used on other essential public services. We are given clear targets to meet and there are huge financial penalties on Council Tax payers because we are not recycling enough.

“Bury and Rochdale have been operating similar collection arrangements for some time now and they have seen increases in their recycling rates.

“Residents should be reassured that the continuation of weekly collections for food waste and garden waste will eliminate the potential for bad smells and flies, particularly during the summer months.”

The ‘Waste Management Options Report’ to Oldham Council’s cabinet can be downloaded from the council’s website.

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