So, the Localism Committee hasn’t met in almost a year. You’d kind of expect that this Committee isn’t that engaged with really progressing the local agenda; as demonstrated by Mr Pickles announcing this summer past that he was making £250m available for councils to reintroduce a weekly residual waste collection service. This doesn’t appear to be very loc-ocentric. Here we have the Minister responsible for local communities effectively giving a “steer” to councils to adopt an approach generally considered to be regressive.
Then, last autumn, we had DEFRA cancelling PFI credits for seven waste projects, which had been going through procurement for years. This caused consternation for some of the councils/groupings by raising fears that they would not achieve their targets (more of which later).
Now, Mr Pickles is at it again. He’s spoken with his colleagues in DEFRA, a consultation paper has been released which proposes amending councils’ powers to penalise householders for contaminating bins, either for putting the wrong items into a recycling bin or for putting recyclables into a landfill/residual waste bin… The general thrust being that councils should be making it as easy as possible to recycle, as everyone wants to do this and penalising householders for the occasional oversight will not advance this aim. This reinforces Mr Pickles earlier, and equally loc-ocentric comments, that “it’s a basic right for every English man and woman to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected”.
All the while, the different administrations strive to outdo each other by setting higher recycling targets for their regions – Scottish and Welsh councils already have to reach a 70% recycling rate over the next decade or so. Northern Ireland is toying with 60% while England is debating whether to stick with the EU revised Waste Framework Directive target – a mere 50% recycling by 2020.
No matter which jurisdiction you’re based in, these are audacious targets for councils. Achieving them is dependent upon councils introducing new collection services, waste treatment and disposal facilities, and householders adopting a different approach to managing their wastes. Change is rarely easy, and the cost of the new facilities will not be cheap but, based upon experience to date, the best performing councils provide a weekly food waste collection service combined with fortnightly collection services composed of (i) a residual waste service (ii) a dry recyclables service (either boxes or bins depending upon the council’s circumstance) and (iii) a charged garden waste collection service. The materials from these collections are then sent for treatment and/or disposal in a variety of facilities.
Now, we’re in a really interesting place. We have annually increasing targets, a ticking clock, additional capital and revenue expenditure and reducing options on how we engage with our householders. The next couple of years will be very telling; can we make transform ourselves into a “recycling society” as the EU and the UK aspire, or will we flounder in the lower ranks of Member State recycling performance as many predict… Time (and councils’ action) will tell!
Immediate Past President of LGTAG