Moves to bring back free garden waste collections must be “fully funded”, town halls have warned as figures show two thirds of councils now charge for the service.
The Government’s new waste strategy has promised to consult on whether the millions of English households with gardens should have access to free collections of their grass cuttings, twigs, plant and hedge clippings.
Composting garden waste could cut carbon emissions, avoid landfill costs and generate extra revenue from producing compost, the strategy says.
But the Local Government Association (LGA) said any changes to waste services that put more of a cost burden on councils already under huge financial pressure need to be fully funded.
The warning comes as research by the Press Association shows that, of 326 English councils which pick up rubbish and recycling from homes, 212 of them (65%) charge for a garden waste collection service.
A small number of councils, such as in central London with little demand for the service, do not offer a garden waste collection, which is not a statutory requirement, though some may collect it with other rubbish.
Most of those who charge ask for an annual subscription for picking up a garden waste bin or bags, with yearly costs averaging around £46, the research shows.
Prices range from £22 a year in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, to £96 a year in Harlow, Essex.
Households in many areas also face a one-off signing up fee or the initial cost of purchasing a bin, and further payments for more than one bin.
But many councils offer cheaper collection for smaller containers or bags, or discounts for online payment, direct debits or for some residents depending on their circumstances.
Despite the charges, councils across England say they have thousands of households signed up – and some even have fully subscribed services.
A comparison of today’s figures with previous Press Association research also suggests some 17 councils have introduced charges in the last 18 months or are doing so this year.
Many others have seen prices increase.
But two local authorities, Derby City Council and the London Borough of Redbridge, have made the decision to reintroduce free collections.
Some 110 councils provide free collections for at least one container, either in combination with food leftovers or in separate garden waste bins.
In Daventry, where a charge was introduced last year, the council said it could no longer afford to collect garden waste for free and “making it self-funding enables the service to continue for only those who want it”.
A spokeswoman for Wolverhampton Council, which brought in a paid-for scheme in February, said: “What was once a free service had to change because we are unable to to deliver services in the same way due to significant budget cuts from central government.”
She said residents could also compost their green waste at home or take it to the local tip for free.
Martin Tett, environment spokesman for the LGA, said: “Some councils were able to provide free garden waste services when they were first introduced but are now having to charge to reflect the growing cost of providing a collection service.
“Money from garden waste collection charges goes back into maintaining the service.”
And he warned: “Any changes to waste services and additional cost burdens on councils, who are already under enormous financial pressure, need to be fully funded.”
He also said councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 between 2010 and 2020, and it was “vital” the forthcoming Government spending review fully funded the local services communities relied on.
A spokesman for the Environment Department said: “Free garden waste collections would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions through less garden waste being sent to landfill, but would also see more waste composted, which is cheaper for local authorities than landfill disposal.
“Subject to consultation, we intend to have free garden waste collections in place from 2023, with councils being funded appropriately to deliver this.”