The garden waste collection madness was prompted by the Labour Government getting a lot of stick for low UK recycling. The easy road was to collect something few did at the time which was garden waste and bump up recycling percentages overnight. Government targets were established and this became the mantra of many council officers who are pretty ignorant about the scientific and management issues applicable.
Many councils are lumbered with expensive and long contracts with firms like Biffa and get sucked into collusive/negotiated contracts because they lack expertise in procurement and contracts as well. Lay councillors get carried away by fear of stopping an existing service and without getting proper technical/management guidance.
In 2007 I pointed out that the green wheelie bin scheme for garden waste is not environmentally friendly and the £700,000 annual cost of collections would be better spent on recycling initiatives which cut the amount of waste going to landfill sites.
People in rural areas do not need to recycle garden waste because they can compost it themselves or take it in to the woodlands where it will eventually decompose naturally. The green wheelie bin scheme actually increases greenhouse gases and global warming by putting more lorries on the roads.
Mixing garden and kitchen wastes causes huge problems as reported from Bristol and other locations. Apart from grub-infested bins, it is also madness to transport this combination to distant locations and build an expensive treatment facility meeting stringent animal by-products regulations when lower cost anaerobic digesters locally can deal with the smaller quantities of kitchen waste.’ There is also scope for producing fuel gas and compost sludge in the process, which have a sale value and help reduce costs.
Some districts have started collecting green waste despite knowing that reducing waste at source was the first step to landfill diversion.
Apart from increasing environmental pollution by collecting and transporting green waste in spread out rural districts, this is an expensive, some might say perverse way to inflate recycling rates. Government and DEFRA are culpable in tempting councils by cash handouts for setting up such schemes and encouraging meaningless performance indicators diverting council staff time from more useful work.
For the Forest of Dean, green waste collection costs nearly £700,000 a year and adds to the pressures on climate change. This is diverting attention from recycling other materials, which have market value.
Councils such as Portsmouth have realised the environmental folly of free-green waste collection and are now promoting home and community composting where needed on amenity grounds. Garden waste is collected at bring-sites or in special bags as a paid service for local composting by many councils.
Reducing landfill and its impact on climate change is a dire necessity and we ignore it at our peril but there are smarter ways of getting there and without costing an arm and a leg for Gloucestershire taxpayers.
Food waste if collected separately is even more useful as feed for aerobic digestion and energy/compost sludge production – greater commercial utilisation and in line with the government's energy and waste management strategies.
Collecting green waste particularly in conjunction with food wastes is against all good practice guidelines from WRAP, Defra, etc. I had correspondence with Michael Meacher MP who was the minister responsible to promote this in 2002 – he has acknowledged that the policy has resulted in perverse incentives and unexpected consequences.