Resource Use

DCLG releases weekly collection guidance


The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has released guidance on how councils ‘can and should’ deliver weekly rubbish collections.

Following on from the Coalition Government’s 2011 Review of Waste Policy and the DCLG’s £250-million Weekly Collection Support Scheme to help local authorities (LAs) retain or reinstate weekly collections, the 'Guidance on weekly rubbish collections: Delivering a frequent, comprehensive service’ aims to ‘show how 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’.

Dubbed the ‘Bin Bible’, the report has been sent to every LA in England and shows the English stance to be at odds with the positions of the Welsh and Scottish governments, which are moving to less frequent bin collections and promoting separate collections of recyclable materials.

It was originally released on 26 December, but was retracted (with DCLG claiming it had been published in error) before being published again on Saturday (4 January).

Writing in the foreword to the guidance, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles said: ‘A recent YouGov poll showed residents perceive waste collection to be the most important service that local authorities provide. They deserve a first class service in return for their council tax and I hope the innovative ideas showcased in this guidance provide practical help for both council officers and councillors.’

‘Myth busting’

The first section of the guidance details ‘common misconceptions’ about recycling and refutes claims that fortnightly collections of waste are ‘the only way to improve recycling rates’ and decrease residual waste arisings.

The claims counter those listed in a report by the University of Southampton showing that alternate weekly collections (AWC) of ‘black bag’ residual waste and dry recyclables can increase recycling rates by up to nine per cent and reduce collection costs.

DCLG’s guidance highlights that several LAs with weekly residual waste collections, including City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and Milton Keynes Council, send 50 per cent or more of their household waste for reuse, recycling or composting.

Further to this, the document outlines that fortnightly collections are akin to ‘punishing’ residents. However, in what appears to be a typo, the document says that diverting waste from landfill should be done in the ‘most heavy-handed way possible’.

It reads: ‘We all recognise that we have got to cut down the amount that gets dumped in landfill. But this should be done in most heavy-handed way possible – such as cutting back the service, imposing new bin taxes, using unfair bin fines or snooping through people’s dustbins. In all likelihood, this would have just fuelled fly-tipping, backyard burning and more trips to the dump as people tried to avoid paying the tax.’

Despite messages from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that government ‘fully supports’ separately sorted waste (as required under the European Commission’s revised Waste Framework Directive), DCLG says that councils are free to continue co-mingled collections and ‘are not required by any diktat to make householders separate rubbish into five separate bins’.

Case studies

The document brings together a number of LA case studies that show how ‘lower costs can be achieved in a number of different ways that do not sacrifice service quality and collection frequency’.

Themes arising from these case studies include:

  • optimising resources – Councils can reportedly save money through ‘optimising resources’, such as integrating the collection of waste from commercial customers with collections from domestic households to ‘ensure collection rounds are closely matched to vehicle payload capacity’;
  • creating capacityLAs could collect new waste streams at ‘low marginal cost’ bymaking changes to existing infrastructure (such as tweaking collection vehicles to collect more materials) and increase capacity by working with disposal partners to ‘share the financial benefits of creating additional treatment and disposal capacity that can then be made available to other authorities and commercial customers’;
  • working in partnership – With high contract costs, the document outlines that neighbouring councils could savemoney by working in partnershipto procure a shared waste contract and share depot facilities and collection vehicles; and
  • seeking innovation – This could include collecting more waste with minimal impact on collections, such asinserting kitchen caddies into waste bins to enable food waste to be collected at the same time as other wastes, and using energy produced from processing food waste as fuel for collections vehicles.

‘Barmy bin policies’

Speaking of the release of the report, Pickles said: “This government is standing up for hard-working people and getting rid of barmy bin policies which made families’ lives hell.

“Rubbish collections are the most visible service that people get for their £120 a month Council Tax bill. People deserve a comprehensive weekly service in return for their taxes.

“We have exposed 10 false fictions fortnightly bin barons cling to as excuses for cutting services. If councils adopt this new guide as their ‘bin bible’, they will be able to save taxpayers’ money and still increase the frequency and quality of rubbish and recycling collections.

“Across Britain there is a clear choice on offer. The government in England is standing up for weekly collections; by contrast, the administrations in Wales and Scotland are moving towards monthly collections.”

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) has voiced 'disappointment' with the guidance, saying that there is 'much evidence that well thought out alternate weekly collection systems work very well and have very high resident satisfaction levels'.

A spokesperson for the body continued: "Waste and Recycling collection services need to be designed and implemented to suit local need and requirements, as Mr Pickles points out in his Localism Act. Governments role needs to be more strategic in looking at the  whole lifecycle of waste, and particularly how to prevent it in the first place, rather than this piece of guidance which could create the opposite effect."

Guidance is ‘disturbing’

Members of the waste industry have also spoken out against the document, with the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) expressing concern last week when the guidance was issued and then retracted. CIWM Chief Executive Steve Lee said: “CIWM welcomes best practice in any area of waste and resource management.

“However, what we have seen so far with regard to this guidance repeats the provocative language used on a number of occasions by Mr Pickles’ office and is likely to reignite damaging media debate that pits one type of collection scheme against another in an entirely unhelpful way."

Lee added that the guidance was "insulting" in its use of provocative terms such as “lazy” and “idle” to describe councils who have moved to fortnightly (or alternate weekly) collections.

He continued: "It is misleading in its assertions over the cost of waste management collection and disposal, which may be a small proportion of the average Council Tax bill but represents the third largest area of spend for local authorities. It ignores a government estimate that the cost to local authorities of a wholescale move from alternate to weekly collection 'would be in the region of £140 million in the first year, and £530 million over the period of the Spending Review'. And it deliberately overlooks the fact that variable frequency collections have been running successfully for well over a decade, helping over 50 per cent of councils to provide better value for money, to invest in improvements to recycling provision, and to encourage residents to reduce their residual waste.

“Whether on a weekly or an alternate weekly basis, UK householders benefit from convenient and reliable kerbside waste collection and recycling services. By creating more unhelpful debate over the frequency issue, Mr Pickles’ office undermines these efforts and obscures the bigger issue, which is that waste is a significant cost to our society and, rather than having a ‘basic right’ to weekly waste collections, we have a collective responsibility to create less and recycle more.”

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has also commented, with the ESA’s Director General, Barry Dennis, saying: "ESA believes local councils are best placed to decide how to meet their residents' expectations as regards waste collection and recycling services. There is no one size fits all solution for all local areas and both weekly and fortnightly systems can work well, depending on circumstances.

"In ESA's view, local authorities are likely to find the DCLG 'Bin Bible' deeply unhelpful. It is not objective Government Guidance, couched in measured language, but a one-sided argument against fortnightly collections which uses loaded terms like "lazy" and "idle" to describe councils which have gone down that route. It will be of little or no help to hard-pressed councils who are trying to maintain local services."

Further to this, in an interview with the Telegraph on 27 December, Pickles said the guidance 'destroys the lazy left-wing myth that fortnightly collections are needed to save money or increase recycling'. However, information has emerged outlining that despite Pickles's claims, 27 of the top 30 collection authorities (in terms of recycling levels) use alternate weekly collections (AWC) for rubbish and recycling, of which 22 are Conservative controlled.

Read the ‘Guidance on weekly rubbish collections: Delivering a frequent, comprehensive service’.