Cllr Eugenie White, Chairman of the Cleaner and Greener Scrutiny Committee on Hammersmith & Fulham Council, says garden waste collections are not only expensive but also do more harm than good environmentally. Give out free composters instead.
Hammersmith and Fulham recently made the decision to cease offering a garden waste collection service. This was an awkward one to make as the Conservative Administration was committed to encouraging
environmentally friendly initiatives and believed that many of its residents were keen on the service.
Originally launched some seven years previously, its initial funding had come from a central Government grant. As such, it was not based on a cost effective model and with the inevitable removal of the grant, it became a significant cost centre for the council. Due to the limited number of sizable gardens in this central London borough, only 5% of households were using it, and hence there was a large cross-subsidy occurring.
Over time various changes to the scheme were made, none ever managing to increase the contribution to total waste above 1%. Yet the collection cost per tonne was multiples of that of refuse and recyclables. Additionally, compostable starch based bags introduced for ease of handling, became increasingly expensive as grain prices rose sharply on global food shortages.
As the service was researched, it became obvious that it was not only
expensive, but not even as environmentally friendly, as many believed.
Every week large trucks were circling over 80 miles of borough streets,
often collecting few or no bags in some streets, and then driving them
a further 20 odd miles to an home counties site for composting. Any
possible contamination of the original garden waste meant that the
finished product could not be sold, so was then driven back into London
for reuse on the borough’s parks. Hence, any good from composting
rather than landfilling garden waste, was being offset by the negative
aspects of pollution and CO2 emitting trucks. All for an insignificant
amount of waste.
Composting needs oxygen, and hence has to be either done in large open
spaces, or within heat controlled built facilities, the former not
available in London, the latter unable to get planning approval or be
commercially viable in London. Only the latter is safe and weed free
and thus acceptable for sale. And although parks can handle their own
compost making, they are not licensed to handle community waste,
even of the garden variety.
To explore the motivations for the service use, present and past
registered users were consulted, asking various questions, and provided
with a distillation of the complex array of financial and environmental
facts. A high response rate showed that a majority of service users
would stop using the service if the charge was to increase to reflect
its collection cost. Many made alternative suggestions in their quest
to find solutions, but all had previously been explored by council
officers. A third of the respondents indicated an enthusiasm for home
It was this enthusiasm for home composting that the council decided to
encourage, transferring the immediate year projected subsidy for garden
waste collection into providing free composting bins. Although
this won’t solve the tricky garden waste residue, such as weeds,
thorns, and wood, the offset is that it should enable the deflection of
some of the heaviest, and most methane producing contributions to
landfill waste, that of kitchen vegetable waste (kitchen greens waste,
cut flowers etc). This should see a reduced tonnage going to landfill
and increase the quality of growth in gardens through use of home made
H&F is expecting good things in future garden competitions!