Monday, February 06, 2012

Pickled again

"It's a basic right for every English man and woman to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected"
Eric Pickles, September 2011 

Friday saw Chairman Eric launch his much-vaunted 'Weekly Collection Support Scheme' to restore weekly bin collections, to cheers from the usual Tory suspects in the media - when they weren't otherwise occupied revelling in the downfall (temporarily or otherwise) of Chris Huhne. The Telegraph even headlined their online article with a picture of Birmingham, which has never moved to fortnightly collections of residual waste.

There is something interesting in it - a council that currently collects 'residual waste' fortnightly (that's the non-recyclables) can introduce a weekly 'food waste' collection scheme and benefit from the funding, as can an authority that currently collects weekly. However, if a council wants to introduce a weekly food waste collection scheme and go to fortnightly residual collections, they are excluded, as are those currently in the process of making the switch.

This is not only an anomaly (as it would assure people of their basic human rights to be able to bin a partly-eaten curry), it will actually prove inefficient. The evidence from many councils that have introduced a weekly food waste collection is that the amount of residual waste then drops massively, so that a fortnightly collection is all that is required.

Aside from that, the problems still remain - the funding is only for three years of a five year commitment, so councils have to fund the remaining two years themselves. It isn't enough - estimates suggest that returning to a weekly model would cost somewhere north of £500 million and councils already bearing the brunt of Pickles' funding cuts have other things on their minds. Additionally, fortnightly collections improve recycling figures, which has the knock-on effect of reducing the amount sent to landfill and thus reducing the money that councils have to pay in landfill tax. Why would anyone adopt a policy that will actually end up costing them money?

Pickles claims that 80 councils have already given private assurances that they will return to weekly collections, but although the Telegraph reckons that this is half of the 160 English authorities that have gone across to fortnightly collections, I suspect that it represents about 80 authorities overall - including those who currently collect weekly. You only have to trawl a few of the local news sites online to find council after council rejecting a return to fortnightly collections, although some will be bidding to offer additional services.

The Tory/Lib Dem Regressive Partnership in Birmingham have already promised to make an application to this scheme, so we can expect that preserving the weekly collection will be one of their rallying cries this May. Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Dudley also collect weekly and are looking to apply for funding, but other authorities like Lichfield - a beacon of success in recycling and one that has fortnightly collections - are still to decide whether they need to apply.

I have no doubt that this scheme will be fully subscribed and the money will be put to use on worthwhile projects to deal with waste, but I still maintain that very few - if any - councils will restore the weekly waste collections that Eric holds so dear.

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