Minister says councils must use initiative to empty bins

As householders across the country face the new year surrounded by the detritus of the last, the Government has urged councils to show more initiative in dealing with refuse collections.

Icy weather and the limited service over Christmas has left unsightly mountains of rubbish bags piling up. Some households have gone four weeks without collections.

Yesterday, Bob Neill, the Local Government minister said: "We need to think again about how we maintain these basic services over the holiday period. People do produce a lot of rubbish over Christmas and it is disappointing that in some cases councils haven't shown more initiative about how to ensure people get the services they pay for."

The resulting mounds of refuse have left householders angry and fearful that the situation will create a health hazard. Many authorities were asking crews to work through the bank holiday in an attempt to clear up the backlog.

In Birmingham the situation was made worse by industrial action over a pay dispute before Christmas.

Haringey council in north London has suggested people should "buy items with minimal packaging". Other authorities, such as Central Bedfordshire, have recommended residents take rubbish to recycling centres. There have also been problems in Exeter, Blackburn, Bradford, Milton Keynes, Weston-super-Mare, Poole, St Helens, the Wirral, and in Wales.

Last night a spokesman for the Local Government Association said councils would take special measures, such as moving staff from other departments, to sort the problem out. "Rubbish is a priority and most authorities will be working hard to catch up on the backlog."