Pickles’s bribe to councils is a white elephant


Rupert Read is a reader in the UEA School of Philosophy and East of England Green Party Co-ordinator

John Humphreys did a good job this morning of revealing communities secretary Eric Pickles’s plan to incentivise local authorities to bring back weekly collections of rubbish-to-landfill as what it is: a political gimmick on the eve of Tory Party conference; an anti-localist move by an allegedly localist government; an extraordinary waste of a quarter of a billion pounds at a time, allegedly, of austerity; and a measure that has been proven by the Government’s own research likely to decrease recycling rates by at least five per cent. (Alternate-weekly collections have tended to increase recycling rates by between five and fifteen per cent)

Eric-PicklesThings are, however, even worse than that, in at least two respects:

Firstly, the Secretary of State let slip this morning during the interview what is an integral part of his Department’s plan to seek to damage-limit the dangerously negative impact on recycling rates of this measure: namely, to encourage Councils to ‘commingle’ more recyclate, to help increase recycling rates.

As I have shown previously on this site, it can actually be a move in the wrong direction to increase headline recycling percentages, if the quality of the recyclate is lowered by so doing. And this is exactly what happens under commingling.

And secondly, the main premise of the drive to bring back weekly rubbish-to-landfill collections is, in Pickles’s words, that ‘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.’ But this premise is fatally flawed.

For, here in Norwich City Council area, where I am writing from, as in various other parts of the country, we Councillors added a food waste collection component into the job of dustmen.

In Norwich, which is among those Councils to have consistently year after year increased recycling rates over the last decade, recyclate is collected every fortnight, alternating with rubbish-to-landfill, but food waste is collected every week. Anyone’s tikka masala remnants are collected regularly without stinking out the neighbourhood – and without the vast additional expense and negative impact upon recycling of abolishing alternate-weekly collections.

Once this is understood, the case for the bribes that Pickles is seeking to introduce is entirely eliminated. Let us hope that, once this is widely realised, this gimmick of his quietly enters the dustbin of history, as soon as possible after Tory Conference is over…

See also:

“Greenest government ever” ordered to face High Court on air pollutionShamik Das, September 16th 2011

Government inaction on green economy is holding us backLuciana Berger MP, September 3rd 2011

How Pickles’s brutal council tax benefit reforms will pulverise the working-age poorEd Turner, August 4th 2011

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  • Mr. Sensible

    agreed, Rupert. What a mess. This was around in the spring, it went away when the waste review was published, and now it is back again. Now that is what I call a U-turn!

  • Robert the crip

    Of course this is an English problem, in Wales we charge for plastic bags from mid night to night, and we have been told the system of emptying bins will carry on.

    But of course my Council had serious problems keeping this going, they put up council tax by 12% explaining this was the added expenses of setting up the recycling plant, only to find out the council was shipping the rubbish to China by ship and hardly any charges. The council which was labour became independent at the following election.

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  • Cllr Jillian Creasy

    Thanks, Rupert, very helpful comments, esp about the co-mingling, as I try to contribute to cross party review of waste services in Sheffield (we are stymied by long-term contrac with Veolia to incinerate our waste, but trying to increase recycling against the odds)