Birmingham forced to clear up flytipped green waste

Birmingham City Council has been forced to clear up flytipped green waste across the city after hundreds of bags of green waste were left out on the streets.

The council introduced an annual £35 charge for the fortnightly collection of green waste in February, but only 10 per cent of residents have to date signed up for the wheelie bin scheme.

The problem was brought to a head over the weekend (17-18 May), after a local MP threatened legal action against the council unless it cleaned up hundreds of waste bags that had been left out in the streets.

Householders had reportedly been placing green waste bags out for collection despite not being signed up to the paid service, and without heeding the yellow warning stickers that had been stuck on the offending waste urging them to take the waste to the household waste recycling centres as ‘dumping of waste is an offence’.

Yardley Lib Dem MP John Hemming, who opposes the green waste charge, then threatened legal action against the council if the waste wasn’t cleared.

He said: “I may apply to the administrative courts in Birmingham to get a court order to make the council clean up the litter in Birmingham.

“It’s a complete mess. They should reverse the decision on the green waste tax. We would like them to get rid of the green waste ‘tax’.”

The Labour-run council then sent out waste collection crews on extended hours over the weekend to deal with the problem.

‘The dumping of green waste is an offence’

Speaking after the city-wide collection of green waste, which occurred at the weekend, Councillor James McKay, Cabinet Member for a Green, Safe and Smart City, defended the green waste charge, stating that the decision to introduce a fee was only made on the back of ‘hard decisions about budget savings as a result of central government cuts’.

He said: “The decision to charge for green waste helps to protect other front-line services because we would have needed to find £2.5 million of savings from elsewhere in the council’s budget if we had carried on subsidising the old service’s collection costs.

“This is the first year of the new chargeable service, so we are currently in a transitional period from the old to the new scheme. As with any new service it takes time for residents to get used to it.

“However, despite widespread publicity about the new service, including writing to every household as part of the Council Tax billing process this March, it is clear that not every household has got the message and some have continued to put out their green waste for collection.

“In this transitional year we need to think about those residents who have paid for the new collection service, but also about maintaining the cleanliness of local neighbourhoods where residents either haven’t got the message or have decided to ignore it.”

He added that the council will be looking at why there has been a ‘limited responses’ to the service, and will be continuing to spread “the message that the free collection service has now stopped and that the dumping of green waste is an offence”.

However, the council has said that, to date, the charge has saved the council £1 million in costs.

McKay concluded: “There is a fine balance to be drawn between maintaining the confidence of our valued paying customers and ensuring that local neighbourhoods don’t deteriorate to such an extent where there is an overall detrimental effect on the city.”

The row over green waste has come at an opportune time for the political opposition, with both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives saying they will scrap the ‘garden tax’ if they are elected to power in local elections, which will be held tomorrow (22 May).

Wisdom of free garden waste services questioned

When weight-based targets were first introduced in the early 2000s, many councils started offering free green waste collections to boost recycling figures. Adding garden waste to existing collections (often using money from Defra) greatly increased capture of recyclables from households, by up to 200 kilogrammes per year, and around two-thirds of councils decided to offer free green waste services.

However, the decision to add garden waste services usually greatly increased overall waste arisings by adding a waste stream that had formerly been treated at source, and outside local authority figures. Indeed, research conducted by Resource shows that there are significant differences in the amounts of waste collected between local authorities offering free collections and those offering charged services.

With shrinking budgets, many councils are now considering moving to charged services, but can sometimes encounter public backlash as their residents have become used to a free service.

Read more about council garden waste services in ‘Reap what you sow’ from Resource 66, or find out more about the green waste collection service in Birmingham.