The government is setting up a £250m fund to help local authorities in England switch from fortnightly to weekly bin rounds. But there are fears recycling rates could be hit, Channel 4 News hears.
The policy, which applies only to councils in England, delivers on a pledge the Conservative party first made in opposition – when they promised to abandon fortnightly bin collections.
However after a “waste review”, which was completed in June, the government appeared to renege on the pledge, saying it could not force councils to bring back weekly rubbish collections.
The £250m still does not compel councils to switch back to weekly bin collections – but does provide a significant financial incentive for doing so at a time of austerity.
The latest change of position comes just ahead of the Conservative party conference in Manchester.
Environmental campaigners described it as “u-turn” and “astonishing waste of money”, but Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: “Weekly rubbish collections are the most visible of all frontline services and I believe every household in England has a basic right to have their rubbish collected every week.
I believe every household in England has a basic right to have their rubbish collected every week. Eric Pickles
“Our fund will help councils deliver weekly collections and in the process make it easier for families to go green and improve the local environment.”
It is not clear how the department will fund the move.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) told Channel 4 News: “It is part of DCLG resources. As a department we have resources to allocate to our political commitments.
“As the Secretary of State said, the waste review has been going on for some time. He has not just woken up and decided to take £250m off other people. I am not aware of any budget being cut but I do not know the details on this and we are not publishing them.”
Funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government will be given to English local authorities which guarantee to retain or reinstate weekly waste collections for at least five years, and which demonstrate the potential to increase recycling rates or provide other environmental benefits as well.
The £250m “weekly collections support scheme” is expected to begin from next April. Councils will be able to bid for funding individually or in groups and can include the private sector “where this increases value for money”.
In August, households in Rossendale in Lancashire were told they would have to put their rubbish into car boots and drive to collection points so that the council could save £98,000.
But a spokesman for the council was not convinced the announcement would change anything.
“We haven’t received any contact from central government with regards to any proposed changes so it is too early to say whether or not we will be taking this scheme up,” he told Channel 4 News.
The waste industry has also greeted the announcement with some caution.
It needs to be looked at very carefully to make sure it doesn’t have unforeseen and negative consequences. Chartered Institute of Waste Management
A spokeswoman for the Chartered Institute of Waste Management told Channel 4 News: “It just needs to be looked at very carefully to make sure that it doesn’t have unforeseen and negative consequences on recycling and also on the wider aspect, that local authorities are allowed to make the right decision for their local area.”
Research by the letsrecycle.com website earlier this year found that nine of the best performing councils in terms of recycling all have fortnightly bin collections, with recycling collected on alternate weeks.
Friends of the Earth‘s waste campaigner Julian Kirby said: “It’s remarkable that Eric Pickles has found spare cash so easily just before the Conservative party conference – but a return to weekly bin collections is an astonishing waste of taxpayers’ money and will have a disastrous impact on recycling.
“More than half of councils in England have taken up fortnightly collections – the government’s own advisors say they are not unhygienic if food waste is collected every week.”
However some welcomed the move. Doretta Cox, founder of the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collections, told Channel 4 News she was “delighted”, saying the Secretary of State had kept his word.
“The risks of not having weekly bin collections are well-documented: the first big thing is the smell of the bins but there are maggot infestations, flies – sometimes so bad people cannot sit in their gardens – and rats. There’s a great public health risk,” she said.