Fewer than a quarter of local authorities with responsibility for waste collections provide weekly bin collections. Most councils only provide a fortnightly service – and several collect the rubbish less frequently than that.
In Conwy in north Wales the bins are only emptied every four weeks. Householders have resorted to burning waste in their gardens which is hardly an environmentally friendly outcome. Residents in Bury have started paying to have their waste collected privately to supplement the monthly council bin collections.
The justification is supposed to be that householders are forced to recycle more. But while weekly collections have been abandoned the recycling rates have fallen.
Weekly bin collections should be regarded as a basic standard of service for residents. Recycling should be increased by incentives, not punishments. The poor are worst hit as they have less space than the rich to store rubbish. The situation would no doubt be even worse had it not been for the efforts of Sir Eric Pickles – but it is still a depressing and continuing trend.
Is there any hope of the trend being reversed? Democracy provides the main answer. A YouGov poll in 2011 found that 57 per cent felt that rubbish should be collected at least weekly. 40 per cent felt that fortnightly collection should be the “absolute maximum” – only one per cent thought that collecting rubbish less frequently than fortnightly was acceptable.
But another source of hope comes with Brexit. That will make it easier for councils to provide this service. For instance we have the TEEP (Technically, Environmentally and Economically Practicable) regulations resulting from the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC. Councils have been worried that they will face legal challenge if they collect all the recycling together from one bag (“comingled”) rather than in several separate containers. The idea is that it avoids contamination but it also reduces the rate of recycling and increases the cost of collection. Collecting the recycling and general waste on a weekly basis at the same time is made much harder.
That is just one example. As Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, said in his Party Conference speech:
“Whether its fisheries or farming, bin collections or VAT rates, controlling our borders or improving animal welfare, EU law currently binds our hands.”
No doubt Gove and his successors will still set town halls all sorts of challenges regarding the environment – including on recycling. But if they don’t make sense our elected representatives will have the chance to change them.
Without all the EU red tape it will be easier for councils to not only maintain, but improve, their waste collection service. Then perhaps councils will respond to the wishes of their residents rather than edicts from the Eurocrats.