Who could argue with the twin objectives of minimising waste and maximising re-cycling of what remains?
But the government’s proposals to require one national prescriptive approach – not just a strategy, but also the detailed arrangements – to recycling and waste management are simply unwise. It’s a completely unnecessary, and counter-productive, burden on councils and on local communities and households.
The government has said that it should decide and enforce rules on all aspects of refuse collection services including the frequency of collections and which services should or should not be charged for. There would be no flexibility for councils to react to local conditions and this would be disastrous.
It is also proposing that it would require councils to introduce between one and three recycling bins, on top of residual waste, food waste and garden waste bins. That means that every household would be required to have between four and six bins.
Many households have enormous difficulty coping with the two or three bins they have now. Just tell me where people will be expected to store six separate bins outside or inside their homes, particularly in areas of high-density housing where space is inevitably limited. Even four bins—the minimum the Government is proposing—will be challenging for many households.
There must be a sensible balance between requiring councils to improve recycling and waste management and letting them decide, in consultation with local residents, on the best way of achieving those targets. It’s local knowledge in providing services that match local need that will deliver the best service and value for tax-payers.
I know that if the government gets it wrong, it will be local councils and local councillors who will bear the brunt of local people’s anger and frustration.
And that’s what the all-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which I chair, has told the government this week. Mr Johnson doesn’t appear to be in listening mode this week, but I hope he’ll be listening and taking note of what we’ve said loudly and clearly.
The main recommendations of our report are:
- The Government is right to set ambitious targets for re-cycling, however it must allow local authorities greater flexibility in how they are achieved.
- At times, the Waste Strategy seeks to dictate from the centre that which would be better determined by local decision makers. Current proposals seek to prescribe how many recycling bins are needed, the frequency of food and residual waste collections, and mandatory free garden waste collection may prove inappropriate for some councils. Local authorities should retain as much flexibility as possible to determine the most effective waste collection strategies for their communities.
- More information is needed on the additional sources of funding that local authorities will receive to meet the additional costs arising from the Waste Strategy, including set-up costs and ongoing operation. Local authority representatives should be allowed to scrutinise the data that informed the Government’s proposals and assess if additional funding is likely to be needed.
- The proposed Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme – through which producers will bear a greater responsibility for the disposal of the materials they introduce into the system – is welcomed, but must prove a reliable, long term source of income. There should be greater clarity on how this money will be passed on to local authorities and the Government should commit to undertaking a regular review of the funding levels it delivers.
- Existing recycling infrastructure is inadequate to meet ambitious targets and significant investment (potentially, £20 billion) will be needed. The Government will need to work with the industry to ensure that the right infrastructure is in the right places, and set-up at a reasonable cost. The Government should also commit to covering any costs for infrastructure improvement so that it does not get passed on to local authorities, producers or consumers.
You can find our report at