St Helens to introduce three-weekly waste collections in face of public opposition

Several thousand residents have signed a petition against a plan from St Helens Council to introduce three-weekly residual waste collections, citing insufficient bin capacity and a potential increase in pests as among their reasons for opposition.

It was reported recently by the St Helens Star that the Labour council had agreed to introduce a three-weekly residual waste collection service pilot from February 2019, targeting the worst performing recycling areas in the borough.

The main drivers behind the change are the impending 50 per cent recycling target for 2020, which the UK is required to reach under its EU waste obligations, and the need to cut costs to protect frontline services.

A spokesperson for the St Helens Labour group – St Helens is a Labour-majority council – told the St Helens Star: “Government has given us no alternative. It has set the 50 per cent waste recycling target and the tax for dumping rubbish into landfill. The government’s 2020 recycling target is 50 per cent. In St Helens borough, we recycle only 37 per cent and, like other places, that rate has declined recently.”

St Helens to introduce three-weekly waste collections in face of public opposition

“We have two years left to either cut in half the brown bin rubbish we put into landfill (dumps) or we will have to pay more than £1 million more, every year for the same waste disposal service.

“Because of government cuts on our budget, this can only mean major cuts in services we all use that are already cut to the bone. Three quarters of our spending already is for our vulnerable, older people and children. Demand for these services is rising every year.”

Despite this reasoning, many residents in St Helens have expressed their displeasure at the plans, with 3,984 people signing a petition at the time of writing calling for the three-weekly pilot to be scrapped.

Sean McGuigan, who set up the petition, said: ‘Reducing bin collection to a three-weekly basis has rubbed salt in the wounds of many St Helens residents, including myself. For a town that has so much to offer, that has so much potential, it appears this council is holding the town back.’

McGuigan sees the reduced bin collection frequency as a sign of the town’s slide into what he sees as ‘deprivation’, adding: ‘Promised changes and regeneration initiatives have not been seen, as our town centre sinks into deprivation and shops in our high street begin to close. The absolute mess that is Windle Island, the closure of libraries and rising crime are also contributing to this.’

Some supporters of the petition gave reasons for their opposition to the council’s plans. Shaun D wrote: ‘A three-weekly bin collection is not a reasonable request. Whilst the concept of recycling is great, the thought process behind the project has been very limited.

‘We have a small brown bin that is barely sufficient to accommodate a fortnightly collection for a recycling family of four. We also have a small black box. It’s flimsy, brittle, easily damaged and blows away in bad weather.’

Many of the complaints revolved around council tax, with Chelsea M stating: ‘Almost £200 per month in council tax and we're seeing no benefit, even two-weekly collections are a struggle despite doing all the recycling we can! My bin has been missed on several occasions and my complaints not recognized!’

Alison A. added: ‘We pay enough council tax to enable our bin collections to stay as they are. Plus, there will not be enough space to place rubbish in bins and may attract vermin.’

Lower funding, higher targets

St Helens Council’s reported move to three-weekly collection is an action increasingly being taken up by local authorities as they attempt to juggle reduced funding with increased recycling targets. Since the late 2000s, government austerity measures have had a suffocating effect on local authorities, which appears to have little prospect of being alleviated – between 2015 and 2020 the Revenue Support Grant to English local authorities will have been cut by 75 per cent.

Meanwhile, the problem becomes more acute when considering the fact that UK local authorities are likely to be beholden to the 60 per cent recycling target for 2030 set by the EU’s Circular Economy Package, which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has indicated the UK will be signing up to.

The spokesperson for the St Helens Council Labour group stated that work was being done to continually improve recycling and waste services and sought to allay fears regarding fly-tipping, stating that research reported to the council as part of its plans suggested that there had been no increase in fly-tipping in any of the near 40 councils that have switched to a three-weekly residual collection.

Regarding fears around an increase in vermin due to reduced residual waste collection frequencies, St Helens provides a weekly separate food waste collection, meaning there is no need to put food waste into residual waste bins.