RESEARCH by the BBC Data Unit has revealed the differences in cost for collection of bulk waste by local authorities across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Rubbish collection is one of the most basic services provided by local councils – but not all household waste is covered by the cost of council tax. With councils facing increasing pressure on their budgets, the majority of local authorities across the country have introduced additional charges for bulky waste collections – a service many once provided for free. Bulky waste is furniture, household electrical items like televisions and white goods including fridges and freezers – essentially all the things from your house you no longer need and can’t fit into a bin.
In 2017-18, there were nearly one million fly-tipping incidents in England. Of those, more than half – 521,895 – of the items dumped were white goods or other household waste – a category that includes furniture. The collection of domestic waste is governed by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Controlled Waste regulations 1992. The regulations say councils can charge for the collection of certain materials, including waste that does not fit into a household bin or waste which exceeds 25kg in weight.
Most councils provide some form of bulky waste service, whether directly, through a partnership with a waste contractor, or charities and social enterprises that specialise in recycling. The analysis revealed widespread regional variation in how much people are being asked to pay, with prices ranging from just a few pounds for a single item to more than £100 for collections of multiple items. There is little consistency in the often confusing pricing structures set by councils. Most local authorities charge per item but there are other ways of charging. Some assign items points to determine a price, other councils charge a set price no matter how many items are collected, while some councils have a minimum fee then additional charges. Some councils impose a separate charge, too, for the collection of white goods like fridges and freezers. There is also widespread variation in discounts available for pensioners and people on benefits – and some councils do not offer any help at all. Some councils will only pick up a certain number of items before charging, while others warn residents may have to wait several days or even weeks before their bulky waste is taken away.
A new government waste strategy was launched in December which includes consulting on plans for manufacturers to foot the cost of disposing of the goods they produce. The BBC Shared Data Unit analysed statistics on bulky waste charges across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sourced from local authority websites between October and November 2018.
Average cost of bulky waste collections (at first item) by nation
Northern Ireland £2
In Wales, Conwy is the only council where all households benefit from a free bulky waste collection without restrictions on the item – but this is limited to one item per year. Cardiff Council has limited free collections for items made entirely from one material – like wood or metal – that can be recycled.
The ten most expensive councils in Wales for bulky waste;
Torfaen, Powys, Carmarthenshire, Flintshire, Isle of Anglesey, Ceredigion, Cardiff, Blaenau Gwent, Newport and Swansea.
The ten cheapest councils in Wales for bulky waste;
Pembrokeshire, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouthshire, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham.
Northern Ireland is the most generous nation for bulky waste collections, with more than half of councils providing the service for free. It is also the cheapest nation for bulky waste, with the average cost of a collection just £2 where charged.
What the council says:
Cllr Hazel Evans, Executive Board Member for Environment, said:
We charge £25 for the collection of three bulk items – this does not cover the actual full cost of collection, transportation and disposal of the items and is a reasonable rate to charge if residents require the service.
“We have not increased the bulky waste charge for a number of years as we try to keep the service charge as low as possible in order that it is accessible to all Carmarthenshire residents. The bulk service is not a statutory requirement and not all residents would require such a service – many take the items to the nearest Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) themselves.
“We encourage residents to reuse and recycle as much of their bulk items as possible and always suggest that people first enquire with charities or third sector organisations that could reuse or recycle the items, for the benefit of local communities, before proceeding with our bulk waste service.
“Fly tipping incidents range from householders disposing of domestic waste to businesses disposing of commercial waste. Fly tipping is not necessarily bulky waste items and is a combination of bagged waste that could easily be disposed of at the HWRCs and therefore the number of fly tipping incidences does not necessarily equate to that classified as a bulky collection.”
What the experts say:
Local Government Association (LGA): “Some councils were able to provide free garden and bulky waste services when they were first introduced but are now having to charge to reflect the growing cost of providing a collection service. “Councils in England face an overall funding gap of £3.2 billion in 2019-20. “Money from garden and bulky waste collection charges goes back into maintaining the service.”
DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
“It is up to local authorities to set their priorities for the collection of waste and recycling on a local level – based on the needs of their local communities and within the national waste policy. “Local authorities are able to charge what they see fit for the collection and disposal of ‘bulky waste’, but we expect them to consult on any charges with local residents.”
Professor Ian Williams, Professor of Applied Environmental Science & Associate Dean (Enterprise), University of Southampton
“I don’t think there is any doubt that the system is confusing, but the problem is that local authorities will have different infrastructures, service provision and levels of affluence. Winchester and Tower Hamlets, for example, are going to be very different.
“Councils in built-up, highly populated areas such as London are likely to have a high number of occupants per unit area of land. Consequently, per square mile, councils are likely to have a large amount of material that might need to be tackled.
“Ideally, there should be one country-wide system for bulky waste collection. The trouble is that every local authority has their way of doing it and politics comes in here.
“Fly-tipping has gone up for a range of reasons. Local authorities are under unbelievable pressure financially in terms of providing services such as waste management. Something has to give… and what can give is that they provide a less good or more infrequent service or end up having to charge for certain services.”
Professor Simin Davoudi, Professor of Environmental Policy & Planning, Newcastle University
“For people in deprived communities paying £10 or £15 is quite a lot of money. “The Local Government Association (LGA) did a survey and said there is no direct link between charging and fly-tipping.
“Charges for collecting bulky waste may not be the only factor in fly tipping but it is a factor. It seems to me that bulky waste charges are a bit of a false economy. The cost of clearing fly-tipping is much higher than the charge to collect. “The figure for cleaning up fly-tipping in 2016/17 was nearly £60m. Next to that, the charges they have managed to collect are nothing.
“It needs proper investigation to see if it really is worthwhile to charge for collections rather than provide that extra incentive for people not to fly-tip.”
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