Waste not wanted

Autumnal garden wasteAutumnal garden waste

As Redbridge Council extend their paid-for garden waste collection service to allow for autumnal cuttings and leaves, Steve Wilks and Scott Wilding explain why they believe the fledgling system still needs to grow.

In December 2016, Redbridge Council announced it was cutting its free garden waste collection service in a bid to save £2m. Gardeners now have to fork out £50 for 50 biodegradable bags which are picked up every fortnight. The scheme was originally set to run between April and October, but has now been extended until 24 November.

Many gardeners, however, have attacked the new service because they think it is 'rubbish'. If gardeners use up all their bags then they have to pay for more or dispose of their garden waste at Chigwell Road recycling centre. Given the size of the bags, it means the cost of disposing of green waste for an average house will easily exceed £50 a year.

The green-fingered population of Wanstead has been furious with the new paid-for service, claiming the bags are flimsy, too small and tear at the first opportunity. Then, when the whole bag falls apart, people will dump it, something the council is trying to stop. There is also the potential that some people may mix green waste with general rubbish to get around the rules, making recycling more problematic when it needs to be sorted at the depot.

The council leader has said the free service had to be cut because the funding the council bagged for it in 2013 had run out. However, even in times of cuts there are choices. The council provides a free bulky waste collection service, which has not been scaled back or been made a paid-for option. Most residents would prioritise green waste collections over bulky waste as many have gardens in our leafy suburb. Bulky waste collection tends to be for one-off items and most people expect to pay for this anyway.

It would have been prudent for the council to have realised the grant money would have run out eventually and not to have offered the free bulky waste collection in the first place. This change has been pushed through without any public consultation or long-term thought.

While all London councils are making cuts to services and feeling financial pressures, Redbridge has increased the Council Tax, so residents are already contributing to the shortfall in revenues. Even in difficult economic times, it is crucial to maintain measures to protect our environment, encourage sustainability and look for cuts across a range of waste services, not drastically charge extra for one particular key service. Even more telling is that there are no concessionary charges for people on low incomes, so they will be disproportionately impacted.

The council needed 10,000 residents to break even on this new scheme. Currently, at the time of writing, they have only 70% of this target, indicating the scheme is already running at a loss and putting the council in an even worse situation than before.

Lots of London boroughs charge their residents for garden waste collection, but they offer a much better service. In neighbouring Havering, residents can order one or more 240-litre wheeled bins to put their garden waste into, which is collected every other week throughout the year (except two weeks over Christmas) and disposed of for a fee of £45 per bin. Compared to the deal for Redbridge, 50 bags for seven months is poor value.

Residents also claim the new scheme is causing 'chaotic' congestion at the Chigwell Road recycling centre in South Woodford, making the experience unpleasant and time-consuming. Many cars queue up at the tip, potentially to deliver just a bag of waste, resulting in unnecessary car journeys and associated pollution. It is more efficient to have one lorry picking up these bags as was the case previously. Schemes like this should be helping to make residents' lives easier, not harder. Moreover, many residents are unaware of the implementation of the scheme. For example, leaflets have not been delivered to explain the new scheme to a lot of houses in the Woodford area.

The council needs to press pause, take the temperature of local residents' opinions and try to rework the practicalities of the scheme. Otherwise, the unintended consequences of a dirtier borough will become apparent, which will lead to long-term problems. There needs to be a rethink of the practicalities of enforcement and to ensure that our waste services meet the majority of council taxpayers' needs, not just a subset of them.

For more information on Redbridge Council's garden waste collection service, visit wavidi.co/gardenwaste or call 020 8554 5000


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