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Government must heed local council warnings over restrictive waste strategy

5 September 2019

Balance must be struck between local authorities and councils on waste strategy

The Committee warns that the strategy risks placing a needless burden on local authorities by enforcing a prescriptive national approach to recycling and waste management. By enforcing rules on aspects including the frequency of collections, or which services should or should not be charged for, the strategy does not allow the flexibility for councils to react to local conditions.

The Government is seeking to require local authorities to introduce between one and three recycling bins, on top of residual waste, food waste and garden waste bins. As such, every household would be required to have between four and six bins. However, the Committee expressed its doubts that councils want to ask their residents to store six separate bins outside or inside their homes, particularly in urban areas where space is likely to be more limited. Even four receptacles—the minimum the Government is proposing—will be challenging in many circumstances.

A balance must be struck between requiring local authorities to improve recycling and waste management, and the ability of local councils to decide the most effective way of achieving this.

Needlessly rigid demands on local authorities will prevent them from using their local knowledge to provide services that match local need, and most importantly provide value for money for tax payers. Waste collection is one of the most tangible services that local communities receive from their councils and it is they who will be accountable at the ballot box.

Main recommendations

  • The Government is right to set ambitious targets for recycling, 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.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP said:

“The Government has recognised the need for a comprehensive Waste Strategy with ambitious targets for improving recycling rates and reducing our impact on the environment.

“However, we believe that the Government has set out the wrong approach for achieving these objectives. The Government should not seek to dictate that which is best determined by local decision makers.

“In determining how often waste should be collected, the number of recycling bins or what services should be charged for, the Government appears to have forgotten that what works in rural areas may not be suitable for cities. Local authorities understand what the challenges are in their areas and should be given the freedom to tailor their approach to meet them.

“Equally, the Government must ensure that the funding is there that will allow local authorities to rise to the challenge. It will require significant investment to improve recycling infrastructure, and ongoing waste management costs arising from the Government's proposals will be higher. The Government has indicated it will provide more funding, but they must demonstrate that this will be adequate in the long-term. Local authorities are already struggling, they cannot be expected to shoulder further burden without extra resourcing.”

Further information

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