May 27th, 2016
by Peter Jones
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, as councils in the UK adopt two, three or even perhaps four weekly residual waste collections, some disgruntled folk start wondering whether they might be able to buy in more frequent collections privately. However, anyone who thinks that “going private” would be cheap, or might be covered by a rebate from Council Tax for those who opted out, would be in for a big surprise.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve spotted several stories about enterprising (or at least publicity-seeking) people offering private waste collections to householders. One of the many media broadsides against three weekly collections in Bury concerned a man who decided to set up a company to offer additional residual waste collections to the benighted citizenry. The articles didn’t find it necessary to mention that the “angry father of four” already has 35 years’ experience in the waste sector, but most mentioned without comment the price he proposed to charge: around £8.40 per lift – with an extra charge for side waste, of course.
Even LetsRecycle has been unable to resist the potent combination of outrage and entrepreneurship. Back in 2014 it reported on the wonderfully named “Rubbish Service Ltd”, which planned to come to the rescue of Harrogate residents struggling with fortnightly collections. For a mere £2.75 per sack, this company would take three sacks away in the week the council wasn’t collecting residual waste. The waste producing enthusiast could even have a weekly service, on top of the council’s offer – and better still, the waste would go to a sorting line “capable of recycling up to 85% of material received”.
The first thing that struck me about those articles was the prices being quoted were far from cheap. I’ve run a number of commercial waste projects and procurements around the country, including helping Business Improvement Districts buy waste services for their members, and I’m sure that if a householder really wanted to pay to get their residual waste taken away they could find a much better price by ringing around local waste companies. No wonder “Rubbish Service Ltd” needed the free advertising, which had apparently netted it 50 customers – not enough to make a business out of, but a handy addition if you’re already running a commercial waste round.
The latest article peddling this idea appeared in the Daily Express a couple of weeks ago, based on a survey of 4,012 people by regular headline grabbers BusinessWaste.co.uk. I’ve been unable to find any details of the survey method or questions on the company’s website, but the results were quite literally incredible:
- 95% had experienced a missed collection
- 98% have had rubbish left behind
- 71% would pay for a private collection to replace the council service if it came with a council tax rebate
- 51% would still pay, even if they didn’t get a tax rebate
Even if we take these results at face value (which I find difficult to do, as they’re so far removed from my experience), it seems unlikely that people realise quite what they’d be letting themselves in for. Even BusinessWaste.co.uk’s owner warned of the dangers of ‘fly-by-night’ companies and thought it might be necessary to require “entire streets” to sign up to a single supplier – apparently “to prevent a ‘turf war’” – though I suspect the issue would be more one of collection logistics.
In fact, the effective council monopoly on household waste collections in the UK helps to keep the service extremely efficient, and surprisingly cheap compared to the cutthroat commercial waste market. Feeding ‘middle of the road’ gate fees and material prices into WRAP’s ICP benchmarking tool, you find that weekly residual waste and fortnightly recycling costs between £100-140 per household per year, depending on geography, demographics and collection system. Going fortnightly on residual waste knocks 10-20% off the modelled costs.
For comparison – 12 months of Rubbish Service would cost you £341 for three sacks weekly of residual waste only, while Bury Bins would set you back £437 – again, just for weekly residual waste. Any council tax rebate wouldn’t go very far towards meeting these extra costs.
Then there’s the hassle factor – do we really want another utility supplier to choose, on top of our electricity, gas, phone and broadband? All the indications are that few of us actively seek out the best deal in these markets, so one suspects that picking a waste collector isn’t something many people would relish.
We don’t have to look far to see how complicated it could be. Ireland has a private sector system for household waste collections, and looking at the baffling array of options available to Dublin households, I’ve no idea which would best suit my needs if I lived there. Frankly, they all look expensive compared to the council option in the UK.
You might also have concerns about whether Daily Mail journalists would sneak stuff into the bins that you are paying for. And of course, someone would need to make sure that households all had proper disposal arrangements in place – bin police with a vengeance!
So – if you’re tempted to believe the myth that private bin collections would be a better value service than what you receive from the council, I suggest you think again.