by Peter Jones3 minute read
Does anybody know what the Government’s policy on waste collection frequency now is?
Confusion appears to reign over what DCLG’s proposed £250m fund to support authorities retaining or returning to weekly collections. Will those offering weekly collection of food waste qualify for it? Or will a full weekly residual waste service be required? The uncertainty for local authorities trying to budget for an austere period ahead was brought to the fore in a news item on BBC Points West last week.
In an interview on 3rd October with the BBC’s Paul Barltrop, David Cameron made it clear what he thought the policy was. “What Eric Pickles is bringing back is weekly collections of the smelly waste. You can do that and massively increase recycling at the same time.” The PM praised the weekly food / fortnightly residual service that is run by his own local authority in West Oxfordshire, recommending it as a model for others to learn from. So surely that cleared the matter up?
Er, no. Thanks to Barltrop and Bristol LibDem Councillor Gary Hopkins, any suggestion of clarity has been thoroughly rubbished.
Both Hopkins and Eric Pickles were speaking at the Local Government Association conference in London on 27th October, where Barltrop and a BBC camera crew caught up with them. Confronted with his leader’s view that the newly announced fund would support weekly separate food waste collections, Pickles warned that he “may be disappointing” the PM, although schemes like West Oxfordshire’s would be “capable of adaptation” to qualify for the fund.
Enter Cllr Hopkins, who states that Bristol’s fortnightly residual collection system is leading to “high recycling rates and happy customers”. Would the city’s weekly food waste collection make it eligible to apply for the fund? Pickles clarified: “By and large, before you kind of shoot your mouth off, we will be announcing the scheme soon”.
In a pickle
Obviously, local authorities are going to want certainty as soon as possible; but with Pickles and Cameron in apparent disagreement, and Defra seemingly unwilling to get involved (at least publically) they may be hoping in vain. Pickles clearly believes that he has to deliver something on weekly residual waste collection, whether for his own credibility or to appeal to (some) Tory voters. Unless he has been misled about Pickles policy by all that talk of chicken tikka masala, Cameron sees weekly food waste collection as sufficient to meet the party’s aims – and for many people served by authorities that collect smelly waste fortnightly this would be a big improvement.
It is extraordinary to me that Pickles has got this far with the new fund, but it will take an almost super-human effort to restrict it to weekly residual collections. The evidence is against him – fortnightly residual schemes consistently drive better recycling rates. The PM appears to be against him, having given his support to the West Oxfordshire model. There are battles to win with Defra – and quite possibly within DCLG.
Even if Pickles has the stomach for the fight, he may find that the fund does not draw out many takers for a return to weekly residual waste collection. My suspicion is that local authorities faced with challenging recycling targets, high material prices and increasing landfill costs, will continue to act on the evidence and favour fortnightly residual and weekly food waste collections.