'No current plans' to make green waste collections mandatory

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has told a fully-packed audience at the RWM in partnership with CIWM event that central government has ‘no current plans to make green waste collections mandatory’.

Pickles speaks at RWMSpeaking at the Circular Economy Connect theatre this morning (17 September), Pickles told the audience that he did not believe central government was legislating to make this a legal requirement, whilst outlining his (somewhat controversial) belief that weekly collections can help boost recycling rates.

He said: "Waste is where the state and the citizen meet. Miss just one collection, and the public can immediately see the difference.

"But there is a thin green line along the border between cleanliness and chaos… Public policy in the last administration actively encouraged fortnightly collections, but never sought to obtain the democratic mandate to justify it.

"This is despite the fact that evidence shows that you can increase the recycling rate with weekly collections and deliver savings without decreasing frequency." (However, there is also evidence that alternate weekly collections of waste and recycling can boost recycling rates and reduce operating costs).

He added: "It's a myth that fortnightly collections are needed to save money or increase recycling."

Pickles said that if it had not been for central government ‘interfering’, weekly collections would have been extinct by 2015, and highlighted the measures central government has enacted since the coalition has been in power: the Weekly Collection Support Scheme (which one audience member said was a ‘bribe’ to return to weekly collections); the removal of ‘legislative barriers’; and the recent £5-million incentives fund.

The chair of the session, Steve Lee, the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), went on to call on the audience for questions.

One audience member called out on central government’s ‘meddling’ in waste collections (which is the remit of local authorities, under the Localism Act), asking: "Why do you think you know better [on waste collections] than councils, who have daily contact with residents?’ Pickles answered: "I'm in the favour of giving electorate what they want. Put it to a vote and see what happens."

Eric Bridgwater from environmental consultancy Resource Futures asked the Secretary of State why, if weekly collections were capable of delivering the results that Pickles claims, more councils were operating fortnightly collections ‘to the tune of 10 to one’. To this, Pickles answered: "Of course there are more fortnightly collections because authorities have been bullied into it by the last administration."

Pickles refuses show of hands

When asked how England’s recycling rate could be boosted (it has been stalling in recent years, with central government even saying that if recycling increases remain at the rate at which they are, England would likely miss the EU’s 2020 recycling targets), he suggested that weekly collections are helping to increase recycling rates.

Reflecting on his disdain for the EU ‘meddling’ on waste through directives, Pickles joked that its reach has become such that it could eventually "see us buying bins with holes in them, just to save on plastic".

Notably, the majority of questions suggested a level of support for fortnightly collections over weekly collections (from both business and local authorities), leading Lee to ask the audience to put up their hands if they thought that weekly collections could deliver savings. At this, Pickles accused Lee of abusing his position of chair of the session and flatly refused to allow the audience to do this. Instead, he moved swiftly on to answering more questions.

The minister responsible for waste and resources, Dan Rogerson, is expected to expand on central government’s position on waste at RWM in partnership with CIWM tomorrow (18 September).

Read more about Eric Pickles’s stance on waste collections or read (a cleaned up) transcript of his speech.