DCLG launches recycling incentives fund

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has today (29 August) launched a £5-million fund to help local authorities with weekly waste collections incentivise recycling.

The fund has been set up to boost recycling rates in areas with weekly collections (which evidence shows have lower recycling rates than those with alternate weekly collections), and encourage buy-in to incentive schemes, which Pickles has previously said are the ‘future of recycling and refuse collection in this country’.

Specifically, the fund aims to help councils set up schemes that reward households for recycling by offering them shopping vouchers in return for recycling more material, for example. 

Pickles has held up the Greenredeem incentive scheme running in the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead as an example of how the ‘carrot’ approach could work.

The borough’s £20,000 scheme (funded through the council’s participatory budget) builds on the existing recycling points scheme administered by Greenredeem (formerly Recyclebank). Those who are signed up to the scheme gain points either through the weight of their recycling (blue recycling bins are fitted with a small electronic tag that links to equipment in collection vehicles and ensures the weight of the recycling is registered and points awarded), or, for those without an individual recycling bin (such as those living in flats), through a share of the total amount that was recycled in the area. In what is billed as a ‘UK first’, residents can also receive rewards for recycling food waste.

DCLG’s push to influence waste collections

However, the incentives scheme is only being made available to councils in England that have free weekly bin collections (of residual waste and/or weekly food/organic waste), and, as such, has a dual ambition of boosting recycling and encouraging more councils to switch from fortnightly to weekly bin collections (which Pickles has called a ‘human right’).

This marks the latest push central government has made to influence local-level waste collections, following on from DCLG’s £250-million Weekly Collection Support Scheme that aimed to help local authorities support the implementation or reinstatement of weekly residual waste collections. (However, only one of the 85 successful bids to the fund, from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, actually outlined that it would use the money to revert back to weekly residual waste collections.) The £250-million fund was also used to promote the use of incentives in recycling, with 41 projects offering incentives for recycling, such as shopping vouchers or loyalty points, receiving a portion of the funding to ‘encourage further take-up across the country’.

At the beginning of the year Pickles also released controversial weekly collection guidance, dubbed the 'Bin Bible', to ‘show how [English] councils can deliver a comprehensive and frequent rubbish and recycling collection service, and deliver practical savings from common sense steps that do not harm the quality of the service that local taxpayers receive’, and has voiced his wish to legislate for ‘minimum service standards’ for waste collections.

Further to this, central government will also present the Deregulation Bill before Parliament to abolish the powers given to local authorities that allow them to penalise households for incorrectly presenting waste.

The latest announcement is also another instance in which DCLG is seemingly taking over an area of waste and recycling policy that was previously held by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). Indeed, Defra has previously administered several funds looking to boost recycling through incentives, with the latest being the Household Reward and Recognition Scheme, which made up to £2 million available for the spending review years between 2011/12 to 2013/14.

'Councils with fortnightly collections will not receive government funding'

In his usual inflammatory rhetoric, Eric Pickles said: “Rewards for recycling show how working with families can deliver environmental benefits without the draconian approach of punishing people and leaving out smelly rubbish.

“This government is protecting the local environment by supporting recycling, as well as championing weekly collections which protect local amenity and public health. Councils with fortnightly collections will not receive government funding and are short-changing their residents with an inferior service.

“There is an alternative to the town hall bin barons who pushed through fortnightly bin collections and are now trying to move to monthly bin collections by stealth.”

Bids to the fund close on 7 November 2014, with successful bids being announced in January 2015. It is expected that the money will be paid to successful applicants from April 2015.

‘Incentives are the answer’

Speaking of the new fund, Rob Crumbie, Communications Director at Greenredeem, said: “We strongly believe that incentives are the answer, and through our work we know that reward schemes can have a real impact on driving green behaviours, with participating local councils seeing recycling rates increasing by up to three times the national average…

“This new fund is a step in the right direction for us to hit the 2020 target, but in order to ensure this is met we need everyone; local and central government, residents and businesses to come together to encourage the UK to recycle even more than they do now.”

Value for money ‘unproven’ in incentive schemes

The view from the incentives schemes themselves is not fully supported by evidence from the recycling sector, however.

In February of this year, the ‘Investigating the Impact of Recycling Incentive schemes’ report, undertaken by Eunomia Research & Consulting on behalf of Serco, investigated the impacts and potential benefits of recycling incentives taking place in 30 boroughs across the UK, in the hopes of ‘helping local authorities maximise the effectiveness of their recycling services’.

It suggested that for current UK reward schemes (outside of those covered by Defra’s Reward and Recognition Fund), ‘value for money is unproven’, and in some cases, could actually cost more than the ‘evaluated benefits they deliver’.

An interim report from Brook Lyndhurst in January into Defra’s Household Reward and Recognition Fund, meanwhile, appears to have come to a similar conclusion, finding that improvements in recycling and reuse tend to be linked to ‘better services and promotion rather than being attributable directly to rewards’.


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