The Government has sent a shot across the bows of councils that are issuing fines to people for breaking bin rules. We have always opposed these penalties, viewing them as a mean-spirited stealth tax on households, thinly disguised as a green measure. We recently flagged up the problem of fines again in our widely reported research paper on the number of bins each council collects.
A letter from Environment Department Minister Lord Henley and Local Government Minister Bob Neill has warned councils that they are not allowed to impose charges for collecting mainstream rubbish, only for things such as garden waste or bulky rubbish. It also clarified rules on call-out charges, official council rubbish sacks or special receptacles and general policy on ‘backdoor’ bin charging. Lots of people want to recycle but slapping fines on people for putting bins out on the wrong day or for not separating their rubbish could be putting people off recycling. It would be nice to see more carrot and less stick to encourage recycling, the use of ‘bin police’ is unnecessary and heavy handed. Of course part of the problem is the EU Landfill Directive, which sees councils having to pay if they send too much household waste to landfill, and Government driven targets for recycling. But this is no excuse for dishing out fines and variations across the country show that councils are interpreting the same rules in different ways.
The front page of today’s Daily Mail highlighted a related issue and another common bin gripe, fortnightly collections. According to the newspaper more than half of households now have to wait two weeks to have their rubbish collected. Lots of local councils claim they cannot afford to empty bins weekly, clearly they could if they cut wasteful spending elsewhere. Bin collections are a key service and residents have a right to expect councils to focus spending on this before other priorities. Many councils that only collect fortnightly say that it helps to encourage recycling rates, however the rules could actually be worse for the environment as those who can’t or won’t abide to them could choose to burn rubbish or resort to fly-tipping. Fortnightly bin collections are also unfair on those who generate more waste through no fault of their own, like large families.
Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, promised to tackle Britain’s “barmy bin policies” when took office. He’s made a good start but there is still much more to do to persuade councils to make rubbish collection simple and efficient for everyone.