What will the government's changes to bin collections mean for households in England?

Rubbish and recycling awaiting collection in the front garden of a house in London, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. Health authorities across the U.K. have simplified COVID-19 testing requirements in a move designed to cut isolation times for many people. It may also ease the staffing shortages that are hitting public services from hospitals to garbage collection amid an omicron-fueled surge in infections. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Recycling in England is to be standardised from 2026. Credit: PA

Major changes to the way bins will be collected are set to come into force after the government announced new rules on recycling this week.

The plans will see recycling in England standardised from 2026, with all homes, businesses and schools recycling the same materials, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has said.

But the move has raised concerns among some local councils who have questioned the timescale given to implement the changes and warned that it could result in higher costs for councils, potentially leading to more charges for taxpayers.

So, what will the changes to bin collections look like, who will be affected, and is the government right to change the rules?

What are the changes?

Recycling in England is to be standardised from 2026, meaning every county and borough will have to recycle the same materials.

There will also be a once-a-week minimum requirement for the collection of food waste, which the government said would reduce the amount going to landfill.

Current recycling rates in England are just over 44% and have remained around this figure for the last 10 years.

A ban on single use plastic such as plates, trays, bowls, balloon sticks and polystyrene food and drinks containers came into force on October 1 which ministers hope will increase recycling rates.

The government is also proposing that residual, meaning non-hazardous industrial, waste should be collected every fortnight - though local authorities are concerned this would result in higher environmental costs elsewhere, such as through more fuel being burnt in transportation.

Ministers also want to introduce free garden waste collections for every home instead of giving councils discretion on whether to charge or not.

However, the District Councils’ Network (DCN), which represents many local authorities, said this would result in people who do not use the service subsidising those who do.

The DCN also warned that many councils will be unable to procure the correct equipment in time to meet the 2026 deadline while many cannot afford the cost of new bins, vehicle fleets or in some cases larger depots.

Who will be affected?

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey described the current system as a “postcode lottery” whereby people living in different areas are not able to recycle the same materials.

The government said it wants to simplify recycling for people across England, with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales setting their own policies under devolution.

Ms Coffey said: “Simpler recycling will help us all recycle more easily, doing our bit to help save the planet and make the best use of precious resources that we use every day.

"Alongside weekly food waste collections, we are ending the postcode lottery of what you can put in your bin so that wherever you live in the country, you will be able to recycle the same products with confidence.”

These changes were put to consultation in 2021 when the government said it wants to eliminate all reusable or recyclable waste going to landfill by 2050.

It is also considering expanding these rules to cover places of worship, prisons, charity shops and residential hostels.

Therese Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Credit: PA

Why are some local councils concerned?

The DNC said the changes will result in higher costs for councils but welcomed the decision to allow them discretion in how to collect waste in their areas.

They also expressed concerns about meeting the 2026 deadline, as many councils may struggle to afford the necessary equipment in time.

Councillor Sarah Nelmes, DCN’s environment spokesperson, described the government's announcement as "a victory for common sense" but added councils need to be spared the costs.

“District councils are committed to collecting and recycling waste in the most environmentally friendly way possible – but this differs from place to place, with local expertise required to devise plans that work for each community," she said.

Current recycling rates in England are just over 44% and have remained around this figure for the last 10 years. Credit: PA

"We can continue to rely on the local solutions which have increased recycling rates and we now have the certainty we need to take long-term decisions on how to improve services for our residents and to help us move towards net zero.

“Although we will be spared the costs of buying vast numbers of bins and vehicles for the sole purpose of conforming to top-down stipulation, there will still be significant costs attached to the reforms, and we await further detail from the Government on how they will be funded."

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association (LGA) agreed that there were good environmental reasons for collecting waste less frequently, but said the new requirement "risks cutting across the government’s own aim of boosting the recycling of food waste".

Councillor Darren Rodwell, environment spokesperson for the LGA, said: “Public satisfaction with local waste services remains very high, which councils have worked hard to achieve.

“What works in urban centres is different to rural communities. We are pleased the government has listened to the LGA and councils and decided not to significantly reduce the flexibilities in how councils collect waste from people’s homes.

“Our national ambitions for waste and recycling will only be achieved by fully empowered local delivery, alongside measures transferring the costs from taxpayers onto the waste producers.”

A Defra spokesperson told ITV News: “Simpler recycling will help us all recycle more easily, doing our bit to help save the planet and make the best use of precious resources that we use every day.

“Food waste collections are key to increasing our recycling rates and we are providing £295 million of capital funding which will allow local authorities in England to prepare for free separate food waste collections.

"We will be working closely with local authorities to support them in making these changes.”

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