Less is More - reducing the frequency of residual waste collections

There are several reasons why a less frequent residual waste collection (3 weekly or 4 weekly) is high on many Council waste managers’ wish list when it comes to service redesign, key examples being:

  1. Savings in collection & disposal costs
  2. Reduced local air emissions
  3. Driving up recycling rates
  4. Improving take up and efficiency of food waste collections
  5. Avoided disposal
  6. Carbon benefits (associated with the bullets above)

So why isn’t everyone doing it? Three reasons primarily:

  1. Politics
  2. Perception
  3. Practicality

Politics: The first of these is fear of it being a vote loser, even in proposing it, with the opposition jumping on the chance to vocally oppose and ride into power on the crest of local concern. It was such a view that has driven (in my view) the current Government to row back on environmental pledges after the recent By-Election, that they didn’t lose, primarily due to their stance on ULEZ. I will avoid getting political here, and try and shelve my overall frustration at the policy vacuum, but some Councils are clinging to weekly residual waste collections as a badge of high service honour when it has been shown across the Country that fortnightly services work just fine.

Perception: Any reduction in service is, understandably, viewed negatively without an associated explanation of the rationale and the alternative provision that is available. It is definitely an easier message if weekly food waste collections, and potentially enhanced recycling systems are introduced alongside a switch to (say) 3 weekly residual waste collections. But this is not always the situation, and therefore effective communication campaigns and consideration of impacts on all householder types are important factors for smooth and successful implementation.

Practicality: Some households will not be able to cope with three or four weekly collections without further help. This may be in the form of: a larger bin for (demonstrably) large households; a separate collection of Absorbent Hygiene Products (e.g. nappy) waste; and potentially provision of assisted collections for households on holiday that would not cope with a missed collection. The latter two are not always provided but the former always is.

The politics, perception and practicality should all be considered through good practice in messaging and communications, so everyone knows what to do, when and, importantly, why.

Successful implementation of less frequent collections has led to the benefits listed in the bullets above and the public do adapt to the new service (I can only think of one example in the last twenty years where a Council reverted back to a more frequent collection). We have worked with several Councils undertaking this move, and are currently modelling the estimated cost, carbon and recycling impacts for three more.

The Government has been unclear about three or four weekly residual waste collections, but Councils are taking the lead. A policy vacuum may continue until after the next election, but for Council’s constrained budgets, stalled recycling rates and net zero targets, waiting becomes less of an option.

Frith Resource Management are experts in collection modelling and have worked with >110 Councils across England and Wales. For more information on our activities see www.frithrm.com , email info@frithrm.com or call 01746 552423.

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